Sunday, August 15, 2010

Debunking myth of R. Valley’s ‘No’ vote

Sunday Nation 15 August 2010

Soon after the historic referendum on the constitution one-and-a-half weeks ago, some campaigners on the ‘No’ side went to town with claims that the Rift Valley voted overwhelmingly against the new constitution.

This information was meant to force fresh negotiations on what they consider to be contentious issues in the newly passed document, in order to engineer another constitutional review circus to last us another lifetime.

Of course it should be clear by now that no one has any discretion on how the new constitution may be amended once it is promulgated. Any negotiations or processes aimed at amending the new constitution must follow the provisions laid down in Chapter 16 of the document.

As it was so eloquently pointed out by various commentators last week, the era of backroom deals is behind us, hopefully for good.

The media have been largely complicit in propagating this myth by analysing the referendum vote as a constituency vote, rather than a national one.

Reports abound of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ wins in this or the other constituency, yet each individual vote counted towards the final result, no matter which constituency it came from.

Ideally, when people vote at a referendum, it is only the votes ‘for’ that matter. Indeed, the emphasis is often on what percentage of votes the document must garner to pass, and not on the percentage that votes against it.

Alluding to a possible ‘No’ win or a ‘No’ loss is therefore fallacious, given that the ‘No’ camp was not presenting any proposal capable of winning or losing. They were simply expressing opposition to the then Draft Constitution.

The referendum result was therefore only going to be twofold — a ratification, or a rejection of the draft.

Looking at the results as published on August 6 by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, it becomes clear that the reality on the ground is radically different.

The number of votes contributed to the ‘Yes’ basket by voters in the Rift Valley Province was 971,331, constituting about 16 per cent of the total ‘Yes’ vote.

Of all the provinces, only Central (1,274,967) and Nyanza (1,174,033) produced more votes in favour of the new constitution than Rift Valley.

Saying that the Rift Valley voted almost to a man against the constitution is therefore extremely misleading, and those peddling this myth might actually harbour ulterior motives.

To further illustrate the point, one only needs to look at Eldoret North constituency, represented by the ‘de facto’ leader of the political wing of the ‘No’ campaign. Over 40,000 voters in this constituency supported the new constitution, and no amount of whitewashing can change this fact.

This pattern was repeated in most constituencies in the Rift Valley, with ‘Yes’ votes being found even in the most ethnically homogenous areas.

Rather than demonstrating the homogeneity of the Rift Valley as far as electoral politics is concerned, this referendum actually shattered this myth, and the residents of the Rift Valley can look to the future with pride, as co-authors of their own collective fate and contributors to the great moment that changed Kenya forever.

In any case, the process of dismantling the provinces will soon begin, and future generations will only speak of constituencies and counties.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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