Poll hit by low voter turnout violence and postponement
LOW VOTER Turnout in Kenya’s fresh presidential election, compared with that held on August 8, was a major talking point as the final results in the election boycotted by the main opposition the National Super Alliance (Nasa) were awaited.
The chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Wafula Chebukati, put the turnout at 35 per cent but the opposition insists that it was 30 per cent, while international media put it variously at 28 and 27 per cent.
According to IEBC, only six million voted out of the 19.6 million registered voters, compared with 15 million that voted in August. The IEBC says that 5,319 polling stations out of the 40,833 did not vote, and that 35,564 opened and voting took place.
Election did not take place in the opposition strongholds counties of Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori, and the IEBC at first postponed the poll to Saturday October 28, and later on Friday postponed it indefinitely.
Nasa, which had called for a boycott of the election, a strategy that has proved counterproductive in many parts of Africa, has claimed victory in the poll on account of the poor turnout.
In the Nasa strongholds, opposition supporters are believed to have heeded the boycott call and styed away.
Although a good turnout in Jubilee strongholds was expected, it was relatively low compared with the August election, while areas described as swing regions in the run-up to the August election had a poor showing.
Senate Majority leader, Kipchumba Murkomen attributed the low turnout to violence and intimidation by Nasa supporters, while Mr Chebukati attributed it to heavy rains in some parts of the country and insecurity.
A brief survey on the voting day in Nairobi extreme low turnout compared with the August 8 election.
According to Aly Verjee, a research scholar at the US Institute of Peace, the turnout may well prove to have been the lowest in Kenya’s history of multiparty elections.
“Many people, even if they favoured President Kenyatta, were anxious, and either decided that going to vote was not worth the trouble, or that the election should have been delayed, and stayed at home,” said Mr Verjee.
Past experience shows a low voter turnout in by-elections, with between 30 to 40 per cent blamed on voter apathy. But in Jubilee strongholds, political observers have attributed the low turnout to the absence of Mr Odinga’s participation, President Uhuru’s main rival.
The low voter turnout seen across the country in the fresh presidential poll was replicated abroad. At a polling station in Arusha, Tanzania, only 65 out of 320 registered voters turned up.
Despite heavy rains in Dar es Salaam, some of the 1,000 registered voters turned out at the Kenyan High Commission. Bernice Gicovi, a presiding officer at the embassy, but could not however give the actual number of those who voted.
In Kampala, Uganda, only 383 of the 1,184 registered voters turned up at the Kenya High Commission to vote.
According Prof Winnie Mutula, the director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, boycotts raise questions of legitimacy when less than 50 per cent of registered voters participate.
“In most cases in Africa, the incumbents despite winning by between 30 and 40 per cent had instruments of power that made them force the vote, but governance remains a problem because it lacks the legitimacy,” she said.
Election experts say that electoral boycotts often have the unintended consequence of strengthening the incumbent and giving him and his party more control.
Matthew Frankel, an executive fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote in in his 2010 paper, Why Election Boycotts are a bad Idea, that the decision not to participate can often create frustration, creating internal tension within opposition parties.
Mr Frankel — who studied 171 boycott cases across the world between 1990 and 2009 — said that this is mainly so in countries like Ethiopia, Mali, and Azerbaijan which do no attract the international attention needed for parties that seek it through a boycott.
Mr Odinga’s boycott was the second since the reintroduction of political pluralism in 1991.
In 1997, Kenneth Matiba of Saba Saba Asili — who who had an impressive performance against former President Daniel Moi in 1992 garnering 1.5 million votes — boycotted the elections but quickly fell into political obscurity and his party split into several factions.
In Africa, the best example of opposition boycott was in Zimbabwe in 2008, when the Movement for Democratic Change presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, boycotted round two of the presidential election after leading President Robert Mugabe in the first round.
In most cases in Africa, the incumbents despite winning by between 30 and 40 per cent had instruments of power that made them force the vote ”