Jamaica Observer – Bruce Golding hails Kenya for peaceful election

Former Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding has commended the people of Kenya and, in particular, the political leaders for the peaceful atmosphere in which the presidential elections were held.

Golding, who is chairing the Commonwealth Observer Group for the elections, made the comments at media briefing in Nairobi on Thursday, August 11, 2022 as the country awaits the results of the vote which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has to declare by August 16.

In his preliminary report on the process, Golding noted that the peaceful atmosphere has been sustained while the votes continue to be tallied, even as he expressed concern about the long time lag between the provisional and official results.

He also commended the IEBC for the elaborate preparations that were made for the conduct of the polls and praised the security forces “for the efficient and professional manner in which they carried out their duties on election day”.

While noting that the conduct of the elections represented a significant improvement on previous polls, Golding said the observer mission had identified weaknesses in a number of areas in which further improvements could be made and these would be detailed in its final report.

He said that the mission was impressed by the use of technology to verify the identity of voters at the 46,229 polling stations and noted that the failure rate reported by the IEBC was less than 0.5 per cent. In those instances, he noted, alternative methods were used to verify the voters’ identity.

Noting the constitutional and legal provisions that were enacted to secure Kenya’s democracy and facilitate the holding of free and fair elections, the mission urged the Kenyan authorities to strengthen institutional support to ensure that those objectives are fully achieved. These, Golding suggested, should include robust and effective campaign finance regulations to ensure that access to financial resources is not the main determinant in the participation of candidates, especially women and young people.

Golding noted the commitment by political stakeholders to the rebalancing of the gender ratio in the elected chambers and urged the political parties to make the nomination of more women candidates a strategic priority.

On Thursday, French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that international observers have expressed concern about the spread of disinformation during the wait for the election results, as provisional counts point to a tight race.

“Preliminary results broadcast by local media indicate that Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are neck-and-neck, raising the likelihood of a challenge by the losing candidate,” AFP reported.

No presidential poll outcome has gone uncontested in Kenya since 2002, and the disputes have led to bloodshed in the past, either involving ethnic clashes or police violence.

The IEBC is under pressure to deliver a free and fair poll after the 2017 presidential vote was annulled due to irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the election body.

But with the complex process of verifying and tallying votes expected to take days, social media is swamped with disinformation about the results, with rights campaigners and civil society groups accusing both candidates’ camps of sharing misleading posts.

“The time lag between the announcement of the official results by the IEBC and the provisional, and at times conflicting, results announced by the media is an area of concern,” AFP reported Golding as saying at the press conference in Nairobi.

At a separate briefing, observers from the United States also voiced concern about misinformation spreading as the counting process entered its third day.

“It is important that there is timely and accurate information and that all the citizens have access to that information,” said Donna Brazile of the National Democratic Institute.

“It is about the citizens having trust in the system and that it is working properly. It is not about the continuation of campaigns campaigns have ended, and results must be tabulated accurately to ensure confidence in the system.”

The remarks echoed concerns shared by Amnesty International and several Kenyan civil society groups on Wednesday about “rising levels of false or misleading information” being shared on social media.

They said in a statement that several posts by candidates and their supporters in the rival camps had “intentionally sought to misinform the electorate and the public” on the electoral process and election results.

“These include distortion, false information shared without malicious intent [misinformation] and those shared to deliberately deceive people [disinformation].”

Kenyans voted in six elections on Tuesday, choosing a new president as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, woman representatives and some 1,500 county officials in polls that were largely peaceful.

The IEBC has yet to publish a final turnout figure but as of Wednesday, turnout was just over 65 per cent.

That compares with a final turnout of 78 per cent in the disputed August 2017 election.

Observers from the East African Community said the lower turnout, especially among Kenyans aged under 35, was worrying.

“This should concern everyone that young people are not participating in the process,” said Jakaya Kikwete, head of the bloc’s observation mission.

As economic pressures have mounted in the country of 50 million, with food and fuel costs shooting up, many Kenyans said they were fed up with electing leaders who had done little to ease their troubles.

“I have voted twice in my life and after the last election I decided I won’t even vote because it is a waste of time,” Ruth Musyoki, 40, told AFP in Nairobi.