Process mat­tered in ‘mlo­longo’ polls, it does even now

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SUNDAY REVIEW - GE­ORGE KEGORO

In Fe­bru­ary 1986, a del­e­gates’ con­fer­ence of Kanu, then the only party whose ex­is­tence was legally per­mit­ted in Kenya, ap­proved a de­ci­sion that its pri­maries for the next election, due in 1989, would be con­ducted through queue vot­ing.

The queue vot­ing came to be known by its Swahili term, “mlo­longo”. Un­der mlo­longo, pic­tures of the var­i­ous can­di­dates seek­ing to be elected as Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment would be dis­played at the polling sta­tion, of­ten an open field, and a voter would queue be­hind the pic­ture of a pre­ferred can­di­date. An au­di­ble count of the peo­ple in each queue would then fol­low and the per­son with the long­est queue would be de­clared the win­ner. This process would be held si­mul­ta­ne­ously in each polling sta­tion through­out the con­stituency and the lo­cal Dis­trict Com­mis­sioner, act­ing as the re­turn­ing of­fi­cer, would even­tu­ally col­late the re­turns around the con­stituency in or­der to de­rive the win­ner. Mlo­longo had a “70 per cent rule” un­der which a per­son who re­ceived 70 per cent of the votes dur­ing the pri­maries would be de­clared elected with­out hav­ing to face the se­cret bal­lot election.

While it had many prob­lems, the mlo­longo method pro­vided un­prece­dented trans­parency, en­abling cit­i­zens to de­ter­mine the cor­rect re­sults on their own, with­out de­pend­ing on the re­turn­ing of­fi­cer. Around the coun­try, the mlo­longo queues were or­derly, and pro­vided an early re­but­tal of the con­sid­er­able crit­i­cism that this novel method of elec­tions had at­tracted. How­ever, the fraud be­hind this new sys­tem soon emerged, when the re­sults started trick­ling in. In a Par­lia­ment of 188 seats, 50 MPS were de­clared elected un­der the 70 per cent rule. It soon emerged that the mlo­longo method was a ruse to purge KANU of dis­si­dents, many of whom were very pop­u­lar, if only be­cause they were dis­si­dents. The fact that Kanu did not care that cit­i­zens knew these re­sults to be fraud­u­lent gave the ruse a shock­ing level of of­fense.

Be­sides the prob­lem of un­der­min­ing the se­crecy of the vote, mlo­longo had another prob­lem. It left be­hind no records. Af­ter peo­ple went home only to hear the wrong can­di­dates de­clared win­ners, there were no pa­per records with which to chal­lenge the re­sults.

Mlo­longo re­ceived in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion, and the re­sult­ing il­le­git­i­macy has­tened the restora­tion of mul­ti­party pol­i­tics, which oc­curred in Novem­ber 1991. How­ever, the first multi-party elec­tions, held the fol­low­ing year, were not easy. They ex­posed Pres­i­dent Moi to di­rect po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion, some­thing he had never faced be­fore, and all the signs were that Moi tol­er­ated rather than ac­cepted the com­pe­ti­tion. Aided by a plethora of il­le­gal tac­tics, Moi’s in­ten­tion was to pre­vent the op­po­si­tion from com­pet­ing with him in the election.

The il­le­gal tac­tics in­cluded vi­o­lence, the zon­ing off the coun­try into ar­eas where the op­po­si­tion was not al­lowed to cam­paign and bribery that the Gold­en­berg scan­dal was cre­ated to fi­nance. Through these tac­tics, Moi won the 1992 election and also the one that fol­lowed in 1997. How­ever, there was no hon­our in these vic­to­ries, be­cause of the man­ner in which they had been achieved. As a re­sult, the coun­try re­mained res­tive through­out the pe­riod when Moi was in power af­ter the re-in­tro­duc­tion of multi-party pol­i­tics.

Al­though there was much to fear dur­ing the 2002 elec­tions, these passed on smoothly when the op­po­si­tion teamed up to elect Mwai Kibaki as pres­i­dent, eas­ily de­feat­ing Uhuru Keny­atta, Moi’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor. The next elec­tions in 2007 brought much vi­o­lence and con­trib­uted to the de­ci­sion to re­sume the con­sti­tu­tional re­form process that had ended in fail­ure af­ter the 2005 ref­er­en­dum. A cease­fire doc­u­ment af­ter the 2007 vi­o­lence, the 2010 Con­sti­tu­tion is re­mark­ably pre­scrip­tive on how to con­duct elec­tions, a recog­ni­tion of the cen­tral­ity of this prob­lem in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity.

One thing be­comes clear from a look at the coun­try’s re­cent elec­toral his­tory. The le­gal re­forms af­fect­ing elec­tions have been tai­lored to re­act to the ex­pe­ri­ences in the most re­cent elec­tions pre­ced­ing the re­form process. In this re­gard, re­ac­tions to the mlo­longo in­famy gave rise to mul­ti­party pol­i­tics three years later, while the griev­ances ac­cu­mu­lated through the multi-party pe­riod, in­clud­ing the 2007 vi­o­lence, were con­sol­i­dated in the new Con­sti­tu­tion.

The key fail­ure in 2007 was the trans­mis­sion of re­sults. With­out bal­lot stuff­ing, which the man­ual trans­mis­sion en­abled, Kibaki could not have won that election. Tech­nolo­gies brought af­ter that election, were sup­posed to act as check dur­ing the next election in 2013. How­ever, tech­nolo­gies first used in 2013 did not pro­duce a bet­ter election that the one be­fore. At the same time, the Supreme Court, took a le­nient view of the fail­ure, ex­cus­ing the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion, in a judg­ment that at­tracted much crit­i­cism against the court.

From a his­tor­i­cal po­si­tion, 2017 was al­ways go­ing to be a wa­ter­shed election. Af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of 2007 which 2013 failed to ad­dress, 2017 was the next rea­son­able op­por­tu­nity for the coun­try to con­front the prob­lem of trans­mis­sion of re­sults, as a ma­jor out­stand­ing is­sue in the coun­try’s elec­toral process. From this point of view, the Supreme

Court was un­likely to take another le­nient view of lack of ac­count­abil­ity in the trans­mis­sion of re­sults in the 2017 elec­tions, this hav­ing been ex­cused in the pre­vi­ous two. The de­ci­sion of the ma­jor­ity of the court which seemed to priv­i­lege process over sub­stance may have a lot to do with the un­met ex­pec­ta­tions around the trans­mis­sion of re­sults.

The main crit­i­cism against the Supreme Court judg­ment has been that the court dis­re­garded the clear choice of the peo­ple of Kenya by not giv­ing heed to the pre­pon­der­ance of votes that Uhuru Keny­atta gar­nered over his chal­lenger, Raila Odinga. There are two an­swers to this crit­i­cism from the his­tory of re­cent elec­tions. The first is mlo­longo. Bad as it was, mlo­longo pro­duced win­ners, in­clud­ing the 70 per cent rule win­ners. Why was process such a strong rea­son for crit­i­cis­ing mlo­longo in 1988 if it does not mat­ter now? Sec­ondly, ex­cept for a dodgy trans­mis­sion process, Kibaki may never have won a sec­ond term in of­fice and the coun­try’s his­tory may have been quite dif­fer­ent.

There is a fur­ther rea­son why process is im­por­tant. The Con­sti­tu­tion says so.

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