Mass voter trans­fers ought to con­cern us all

Nairobi Law Monthly - - Society - Writer is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions prac­ti­tioner; E-mail:

The just-con­cluded voter reg­is­tra­tion was char­ac­terised by mass voter trans­fers, with close to 500,000 vot­ers re­ported to have trans­ferred to new polling sta­tions. The In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion (IEBC) de­scribed this as largely sus­pi­cious and in­di­cated they were con­duct­ing an anal­y­sis to as­cer­tain the rea­sons for the many trans­fers.

The elec­toral body spec­u­lated the trans­fers could have been “mo­ti­vated by change of res­i­dence” but we can­not also rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion. There have been al­le­ga­tions of voter im­por­ta­tion and zon­ing in a num­ber of places. Two eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, for in­stance, ac­cused each other of mo­bil­is­ing vot­ers from with­out to outdo each other in Kar­i­obangi. Con­se­quently, ten­sion built up and pre­cip­i­tated into vi­o­lent con­flict which saw one per­son get se­ri­ously in­jured. There were sim­i­lar con­cerns in West­lands where it was al­leged vot­ers were mo­bilised from a neigh­bour­ing county.

De­spite the mur­murs, there is noth­ing wrong or il­le­gal that pro­hibits a voter from trans­fer­ring his or her vote to a polling sta­tion or con­stituency of their choice. But it is ev­i­dent, as wit­nessed dur­ing the month-long voter reg­is­tra­tion that the stakes are high. With this comes the risk of elec­toral vi­o­lence. Now, this is not one of those things we want to flat­ter, not af­ter the in­fa­mous post-elec­tion vi­o­lence of 2007/2008 that killed more than 1,000 peo­ple and dis­placed thou­sands, as well as de­stroy­ing prop­erty worth mil­lions of shillings.

Pre­vi­ously, the law pro­vided for checks to guard against ar­bi­trary trans­fer of vot­ers. A voter, for ex­am­ple, had to prove s/ he had been a res­i­dent of an area for at least six months or had in­ter­est there of, say, run­ning a busi­ness. The Elec­tions Act of 2011 is de­void of such safe­guards and all that a reg­is­tered voter re­quires to do is to no­tify the elec­toral body of their in­ten­tion to trans­fer within the stip­u­lated pe­riod. The law mak­ers must have been up to some mis­chief when craft­ing the cur­rent law and it is not dif­fi­cult to de­ci­pher what it is. They can now ferry a bus full of peo­ple to reg­is­ter at their con­stituency of choice to in­flu­ence the di­rec­tion of the vote, and there is noth­ing any­one can do about it. Even as IEBC does its anal­y­sis on the mass voter trans­fers, it is not clear what they can do with the out­come of that ex­er­cise to neu­tralise the im­mi­nent chal­lenge.

If, in­deed, the con­cerns raised in Kar­i­obangi and West­lands are true, then there is a prob­lem. This is not just be­cause it is likely to stir eth­nic an­i­mos­ity; rather, it is be­cause it dis­torts democ­racy by deny­ing peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to elect lead­ers of their choice. As such, voter im­por­ta­tion dis­torts the con­cept of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The Na­tional Assem­bly, for in­stance, “rep­re­sents the peo­ple of the con­stituen­cies and spe­cial in­ter­ests” and de­lib­er­ates on and re­solves is­sues of con­cern to the peo­ple”. The Se­nate on the other hand rep­re­sents the coun­ties, and serves to pro­tect their in­ter­est.

An elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive will owe al­le­giance to their con­stituents lest they will be shown the door the next time they go to the bal­lot box (we are yet to see any­thing un­der the right of re­call). If a rep­re­sen­ta­tive is elected by vot­ers who re­side else­where, he or she will not feel ob­li­gated to carry out his or her du­ties and may end up draw­ing a salary not earned. It is even more dis­turb­ing if you con­sider the fact that politi­cians in­flu­ence some as­pects of de­vel­op­ment – Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment have the Con­stituency De­vel­op­ment Fund and county women rep­re­sen­ta­tives now have the Af­fir­ma­tive Ac­tion So­cial De­vel­op­ment Fund.

Im­ported vot­ers will also dis­tort the wishes of the con­stituents of an elec­toral unit. As the say­ing goes, only the wearer of the shoe knows where it hurts. Im­ported vot­ers do not know the real is­sues fac­ing the peo­ple, their pri­or­i­ties or con­cerns. It is, per­haps, for this rea­son that the is­sue of mass voter trans­fers is emo­tive. They may elect a po­lit­i­cal as­pi­rant based on tribe, bribe or what­ever other ba­sis there may be, but sel­dom on their ca­pac­ity to cham­pion the in­ter­est of the con­stituents be­cause they have no clue. If we can have po­lit­i­cal lead­ers elected in this man­ner, then we can as well for­get about ex­pect­ing much from them.

The only sure way to ad­dress th­ese chal­lenges is to amend the elec­tions law to pro­vide safe­guards to fore­stall trans­fer of vot­ers for wrong rea­sons. This can­not hap­pen un­less the law-mak­ers pro­pose and/or sup­port at­tempts to amend the Elec­tions Act.

Are there any Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who can stand to be counted?


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