Monday, August 6, 2012

Dangers posed by a bungling electoral team


Sunday Nation 05 August 2012

In the recent past, controversy has flared over tendering for biometric voter registration equipment by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Due to missteps within the commission itself as well as overwhelming pressure from politicians and other vested interests, the tender was eventually cancelled, and we are now set to have another manual election next year.
This controversy leaves certain questions unanswered. Firstly, what was the commission’s rationale for trying out biometric voter registration and electronic voting? Has this rationale now been relegated to irrelevance through bureaucratic incompetence?

If the decision was informed by the inept way Mr Samuel Kivuitu’s Electoral Commission mishandled voter registration and vote counting in the 2007 election, then it seems clear that reverting to a manual system will necessarily result in apprehensions about possible fraud next year. If the commission realised that a manual system is easier to rig through vote stuffing and ballot box destruction, how will abandoning an electronic system assuage our fears of a repeat?

Second, are there divisions within the commission that are resulting in this haphazard decision-making and poor communication? Do these perceived divisions have anything to do with the political affiliations of commissioners and employees of the commission?

The goings-on do not inspire confidence. On the day the biometric voter registration tenders were allegedly cancelled, there were reports that some individuals within the commission had tried to sabotage the decision by interfering with publication of the cancellation. Instead, the next day a small advert appeared in the press extending the deadline for application of registration clerks.

If indeed it is true that there are divisions within the commission, it is imperative that they are investigated and eliminated to maintain the confidence of voters. Anything short of this will increase the risk of loss of public confidence in the voting, resulting in reactions most Kenyans would rather not see after the elections.

Thirdly, what are the implications of these controversies as far as the delivery of a free and fair election is concerned? Given the progressively worsening poisoned political environment that we find ourselves in, might it be too late to forestall an inevitable conflagration based on rigging claims as happened after the last General Election?

One would hope that all Kenyans of goodwill will identify this crisis at the commission as a more pressing threat to national stability than even the date of the next General Election itself. We cannot allow our politicians to get away with literal murder this time. If we mess up the next elections, it is almost certain that there will be no Kenya to speak of afterwards, and the cruel finger of history will forever point in our direction as the chief culprits in the destruction of this beautiful country.

We must remember that Justice Kriegler’s report uncovered evidence of rigging in the strongholds of the major political parties competing for power in 2007. Due to manual voter registration and voting, it was possible to enrol dead and non-existent voters.

We must find a safer, less emotive solution to this problem this time, or risk losing all the fragile gains we have made since 2008. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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