Kenyans vote, or mostly don’t, in controversial reelection

Nahar Khan from Nairobi, Kenya
Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Empty Mbajo Primary School polling station of Kakamega County in Western Kenya. Photo: Nahar Khan for Dhaka Courier


Very few Kenyans showed up to vote on October 26 at a controversial reelection boycotted by the main opposition, causing a deep divide and ethnic cleavages throughout the East African nation.


The picture at polling stations today retained a stark contrast to that of August 8, with polling booths standing empty and security forces outnumbering voters.


At the Mbajo Primary School polling station of Kakamega County, Samson Musungu, who defied the current political climate to show up told UNB, “Last time there were 1400 voters as the queue ran beyond the gates of this school and today, there were only 2.”


The opposition party National Super Alliance (NASA), led by Raila Odinga, has decided not to participate in the re-elections and announced that it is now a resistance movement focusing on defending democracy and mobilizing movements to ensure free and fair elections for the economic hub of East Africa.


Kakamega County appears to be a NASA stronghold as polling stations remained empty with people responding to its boycott. Festos Wasike, when asked why he didn’t vote this time, responds, “We are aware that the inevitable outcome of this re-election will be yet another Kenyatta victory.”


A historic Supreme Court ruling invalidated incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the August 8 elections, linking widespread irregularities in electronic transmission of election results and the murder of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) Manager of IT, Chris Msando – who had developed a fraud-proof electronic ballot and voter registration system.


The monumental court ruling set a new precedent in the region due to government usually having substantial influence on the judges, as re-election threatens to drive risks of increased political unrest.


After the 2007 election violence, Kenya’s judiciary was said to have undergone extensive changes in order to restore conviction in the legal system. However, having withdrawn from the re-run, the opposition leader Raila Odinga has refused to participate as re-elections are being held with little to no reforms in order to prevent electoral fraud.


Ethnically charged election violence


Certain reforms in the Constitution were introduced in 2010, in hopes to prevent outbreaks of violence, however ethnic divisions within Kenya continue to deepen and affect electoral processes. “This election (8 August 2017)  failed in exactly the same way as the previous election,” said George Kegoro, the head of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission as the country continues to be mired in political instability.


Kenya’s ethnically divided politics has deep roots, as seen during the 2007 presidential elections where Mwai Kibaki of the Kikuyu ethnic group was declared victorious against the Kalenjins and Luos, who believed their leader Raila Odinga had been cheated.


Irrespective of opposition’s boycott, much of the same can be seen today as Raila supporters are being elbowed out. Some areas, however, are witnessing continued tribal clashes as they take to the streets of Kenya.

Re-elections must go on


Even with Raila’s withdrawal from the re-run, elections have continued. The constitution require the Election Commission to arrange the reelection by November 1. If they failed, short of a Supreme Court ruling, the country would be plunged into a constitutional crisis.  Against this backdrop, the lack of a quorum at the Supreme Court for the hearing to go ahead in a suit filed seeking the reelection’s postponement on October 25, was no accident.


After the Deputy Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu’s bodyguard was shot and killed, the court was unable to convene enough judges. The European Union also announced on Tuesday that it would be reducing its size of observers due to safety concerns within the country, where in a recent statement, the diplomats stated this is an important time where “Kenya is at risk of losing much of what it has gained since 2008 unless it comes together at this crucial moment to preserve democracy and fundamental freedoms.”


For the first time in the history of African democracy, the Supreme Court had ruled election results invalid in an attempt to strengthen democratic gains. At a time when fair governance is diminishing in parts of the region, Kenya’s elections could have set a tone for the rest of the continent.


‘A sham election’


“The reelection has unfortunately not gone well. Going into the election, what the opposition under Raila Odinga wanted was a level playing field, with some changes made at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. But none of their demands were actually taken care of,” Boaz Bulimu, Lugari Constituency Manager, told UNB in an interview.


“The opposition’s boycott has been very successful, almost 90 percent successful, because in most parts of the country there was very low turnout. In 4 out of 47 counties, there was no election at all, where the IBEC is hoping to hold the vote on Saturday, but we doubt that very much as well,” Mr Bulimu added.


His words proved prophetic. Saturday (Oct 28) came and went, but no voting activity occurred in any of the four counties. Then at the start of the week, the results came out showing Kenyatta to have won with 98 percent of just over 7.5 million votes cast – the crucial figure- meaning turnout was just short of 40 percent. Even in the August 12 election, 82 percent of Kenya’s 19 million registered voters had exercised their franchise.


Looking ahead, Mr Bulimu is of the view that the international community will have to step in “very strongly”. For this, he called upon the various envoys from other countries stationed in Kenya, as well as the election observers who were there to issue an honest statement about what transpired today.


Ultimately, the objective must be for everyone to come together and raise their voice for another election that is acceptable to all, with everyone’s participation.


Apprehending what lies ahead for the country with the opposition having announced the start of a resistance movement, Mr Bulimu remained optimistic that the international community can play its part to force the authorities in Kenya to hold a credible election in the near future.


As far as today’s exercise is concerned though, he could hardly have been more categorical: “This has been a sham election.”

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