Poll hit by low voter turnout vi­o­lence and post­pone­ment

The East African - - NEWS - By FRED OLUOCH Spe­cial Correspondent

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 ”

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