Monday, October 3, 2011

A December election date is a recipe for a disaster

Sunday Nation 02 October 2011

The Constitution of Kenya, Article 118(1)(b) provides that Parliament shall “facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees”. This is the spirit in which the following piece has been written.

Recently, the minister for Justice published a Bill seeking to amend the Constitution to provide for, among other things, a change of the election date from “the second Tuesday in August to the third Monday in December of every fifth year”.

In the memorandum of objects and reasons for the amendment, a couple of brief sentences purported to explain the reason behind the change of dates.

In the first paragraph, the Memorandum reads: “The Bill further seeks to bring clarity and certainty to the term of the tenth Parliament while also removing any doubts as to the date of the next general elections under the Constitution of Kenya 2010.”

The other sentence concerning the election date reads: “The Bill also proposes to amend Articles 101(1), 136(2)(a), 177(1)(a) and 180(1) of the Constitution by introducing a date that settles all controversy surrounding the date for the next general elections.” There is no mention of the budget cycle, a popular explanation from government, nor is the nature of the controversy discussed.

Legal scholar

Opinions expressed on this matter have been largely meant to justify firmly held positions. Indeed, just last week, eminent legal scholar, Prof Yash Pal Ghai and colleagues argued that the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides for an election in early 2013.

In reality, the only date provided for in this schedule is in part 3, Article 9(2), which provides that in case the government “is dissolved and general elections held before 2012, elections for the first county assemblies and governors shall be held during 2012”.

Obviously, the framers of this section anticipated that, all factors remaining constant, the General Election would be held “during 2012”, with the only date provided for being the second Tuesday of August.
Quite apart from the legal and constitutional reasons against a change of date from August to December, it is important for Kenyans to contemplate for a moment the implications of a December election date on the national psyche.

Let us for a moment flash back to the 2007 post-election violence. Majority of the perpetrators and victims were thought to have been young males aged between 15 and 25 years. Many of them were school-going youth, and some had just undergone initiation ceremonies that are often held during the long December school holidays. All of them were idle, and provided the perfect substrate for politicians in need of cheap hands for hire.

Research has shown that this demographic segment is the most violence-prone, especially when they are poor, unemployed and have weak social support networks. One of the ways other societies have reduced violence is by keeping these youth in school, providing employment, and offering opportunities for fulfilling social interactions when they are idle.

Is it not conceivable, therefore, that an August election date would potentially be less violent than a December one? Due to the short holiday, students busy preparing for national examinations will probably not be available for “political violence”.

If only for the sake of peaceful elections next year, we must avoid a December election date by all means.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

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