Sunday, September 23, 2012

Talk of an August General Election dangerous

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 23 September 2012

The Constitution of Kenya, promulgated in August 2010, provides for general elections on the second Tuesday of August every five years. Those that read that literally were convinced that the next elections after the 2007 fiasco should have been held last month.

After much argument and counter-argument, the courts sided with the politicians and gave suggestions that led the electoral commission to set a March 2013 date for the elections. During these contestations, some had even suggested that in case August elections were deemed impractical, December 2012 would be a suitable substitute.

However, once the March 2013 date was set, it seemed as though the matter was settled for good. Despite disappointment with this unnecessary breach of the Constitution, many realised the futility of pursuing further legal challenges that would, in any event, be most likely overtaken by events.

Which is why it is very worrying when no less a personage than the Deputy Speaker, supported by government ministers, opines that a March election is either impossible or impractical. The experience in Kenya is that senior politicians usually float outrageous ideas and then gauge the public response to them.
In case there is no public outrage, consensus is assumed and the idea is implemented. This time, however, politicians will be best advised to observe the following facts.

Complete break

Firstly, Kenyans have been yearning for a General Election since at least two years ago when we passed a new Constitution that promised a complete break with the past. The people are ready to turn their backs on the bloody past that forever destroyed our reputation as an island of peace, and made us out as a querulous people that can never agree on anything without external guidance.

Secondly, the people are weary of most of our politicians, and are eager to replace them with new leaders with fresh ideas on how to govern a modern republic. Traditionally, in any case, we are famous for sending home up to two-thirds of incumbents in any General Election. The coming election will definitely be no exception.

Thirdly, the rising tensions in the labour sector demonstrate a general restlessness of the population, and it is at times like this that a small spark can ignite a fire that will be very difficult to extinguish. It is my considered opinion that moves to change the election date yet again may just be that spark, and that the moment indignant Kenyans begin marching on the streets, there is no telling where they will end up.

It is being whispered in dark corners that some master puppeteer is orchestrating all these incidents in order to benefit from the ensuing chaos. Government behaviour is doing little to assuage these fears among wananchi. For instance, at the height of industrial unrest, the Speaker has been reported as having argued that Members of Parliament earn peanuts, when we all know that they are among the best paid legislators in the world. Government moves to raise perks for permanent secretaries, and talk of further postponement of the elections, fall well within such a plan.

If the master puppeteer exists, one would leave him with a vivid lesson from the French Revolution, of the guillotine that did not spare the architects of the revolution. 

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

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