Monday, January 14, 2013

How subliminal messaging could win election

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 13 January 2013

In many countries across the world, elections are won on the strength of issues canvassed by political parties and candidates. In Kenya, however, this has never been the case in the past, and it is largely unlikely that serious issues will play any role in the forthcoming elections.

It remains intriguing how Kenyan elections are won or lost, but a few factors have come to be appreciated as key determinants. Ethnicity or kinship, wealth and gender seem to be deciding factors whenever a Kenyan voter stands in the polling booth. These factors are well studied, and politicians are busy developing their strategies based on them.

There is no doubt that they will determine the main winners and losers this year as well. However, a new factor is emerging that may influence the so-called “swing” voters. Subliminal messaging, or crafting messages in a manner that is not so obvious, will influence the undecided voters at the very last minute. Let us examine some examples of this.

Firstly, let us consider the naming of coalitions. Competing coalitions have given themselves names that are aimed at influencing voter perceptions at levels other than the conscious analytical mind. These names speak to either perceptions of ubiquity, or strong emotional needs in every human being. 

Package itself

In our 50th year after independence, at least one of the coalitions has taken advantage of this happenstance to package itself as the team whose time has come, with undertones of religious determinism and entitlement. The fact that all government leaders across the political divide have had to mention this anniversary somewhere in their speeches only serves to illustrate the point – they are embedding the message in the minds of their listeners that they don’t mind the holders of that name winning an election this year.

Another coalition seems to have been named to appeal to those of us who were completely freaked out by the civil unrest following the last General Election. However, there’s more to this than meets the eye. This coalition, headed by a candidate from Western Kenya, has been fronted as a forum in which voters from Western Kenya communities may exert their influence.

Indeed, the coalition has been campaigning in the region flaunting their strength, power and unity. Interestingly, among many of the local dialects, the coalition’s name means “strength, power or authority”. Perhaps the undecided Western voter will choose the coalition whose name rings a subconscious bell in their mind.

Finally, one other factor that has been studied in other elections also unconsciously influences the undecided voter. Multiple studies have demonstrated a “ballot order positional effect”, a phenomenon whereby candidates placed at or near the top of the ballot tend to win elections more often than those whose names appear in the bottom half. This effect is amplified when the lists are long and multiple positions are being contested, as is certain to be the case in our forthcoming elections.

Given the amount of confusion among the voters concerning the various candidates and their coalitions, it is very likely that the subliminal factors mentioned above will influence voter behaviour. Unless the electoral commission takes steps to ameliorate some of these effects, it should be easy for observers to predict the outcome of the election based on the percentage of undecided voters.; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Monday, January 7, 2013

Implications of constitutional 'sanity' requirement

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 06 January 2013

Article 83(1) (a) of our Constitution provides that “A person qualifies for registration as a voter at elections or referenda if the person is not declared to be of unsound mind”. Further, Article 99(2) (e) disqualifies a person who “is of unsound mind” from being elected as a Member of Parliament and, by extension, from vying for any elective office.

These caveats are intriguing in several ways, and one would be interested to find out the thinking that informed the drafters’ decision to bar people of “unsound mind” from political participation. This is more so given that the same Constitution in Article 27 outlaws discrimination including on grounds of health status, and Article 28 grants that “Every person has inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected”.

With regard to the constitutional prohibitions on grounds of sanity, one is struck by the difference in language referring to either registration as a voter or eligibility to vie for political office. In order to be registered to vote, one needs only not to have been declared to be of unsound mind, while to vie, one needs to be of sound mind.

The difference, though nuanced, may turn out to be significant. For instance, questions arise as to whether all aspirants therefore need to be seen by a psychiatrist who will then certify them not to be of unsound mind.
Indeed, a few days ago, a colleague of mine indicated that he had been approached by some aspirants seeking a “certificate of soundness of mind” in order to be eligible to vie for various posts.

As far as I know, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission does not have any regulations on this requirement, leading to the prevailing confusion. Does the Constitution require one to demonstrate “soundness of mind” before becoming eligible to vie for political positions? How frequently should such an examination be done?

As far as registration to vote is concerned, a declaration that someone is of unsound mind would be sufficient to block them from registration. In other words, the Constitution bars people with declared mental illness from registering as voters. The implication, however, is that someone must accuse a prospective voter of “unsoundness of mind” before a mental examination is required. This seems to differ from the aspirants’ requirement, in which case “unsoundness of mind”, whether declared or not, would disqualify them.

Unfortunately, “unsoundness of mind” is not defined in the Constitution or in other written laws. Does this mean that all aspirants must get a “certificate of soundness of mind” before nomination? Of what use would such a certificate be?

In actual fact, “soundness of mind” is often a fluid condition, and can only be ascertained in reference to a specific request at a specific time. For instance, one can be of perfectly sound mind three months before an election, and be completely out of it on Election Day.

Secondly, where does such a requirement leave those who have been diagnosed with chronic mental disorders but are currently stable on treatment and follow-up?

In some jurisdictions, all aspirants are expected to undergo medical examinations, including mental examination, before being cleared to vie for high office. Once elected, periodic examinations are also mandatory.

Perhaps this is what the drafters of our Constitution intended? 

Dr Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and senior lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli.

Let us make 2013 the year of renewal for Kenya

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 30 December 2012

As we come to the end of 2012, I take this opportunity to wish readers of this column a happy and prosperous 2013. When the current year began, many of us expected that it would end with a new occupant in State House and new representatives in the various houses at the different levels of government. This hope has now been postponed, and we are hopeful that next year we shall realise this eventuality.

Looking ahead to 2013, there is a lot to be optimistic about, but there is also a lot to be cautious about. Even as we wish each other a happy and prosperous new year, we will do well to keep in mind that events early next year will determine the future of this country.

This time five years ago, we were in the throes of a violent eruption related to general elections that were allegedly stolen. For two months we remained in a state of uncertainty, and many feared that our country had finally arrived at its Waterloo.

One hopes that this will not be the case next year, although all indications are that Kenyans’ short memories are facilitating a potential repeat of the events five years ago. Tribal coalitions have already been repackaged and polished ready for service at the next General Election, despite all outward appearances of ideological connection and goodwill for the country. The same politicians who have been contending for decades will face off again in under three months’ time, with their disputes remaining essentially unchanged.

Peering into the future, one is confronted with a bleak choice. It is fairly obvious that whoever will be elected president next year is unlikely to provide a clean break with the past. Most of those offering themselves up for positions at the next election have been in government before, some for significant lengths of time. During their stints in government they have made little effort to implement the “reformist” agendas they are now promising Kenyans.

The only redeeming feature concerning next year’s election is that the laws are now a little harder to break with impunity, and punishments are much more severe than in the past. If Kenyans maintain fidelity with the Constitution, then the future is much brighter than we anticipate. The problem with Kenyan politics has been our unhealthy obsession with personalities rather than issues. We remain ready to fight and kill each other on behalf of politicians who do not care much about the common citizen.

The new Constitution represents an attempt to shift focus to issues that matter in the development of our republic. Kenyans must seize this opportunity to strengthen institutions and seal loopholes to such an extent that even if a chimpanzee were to be installed in State House, the country would continue running just fine.
It has been my contention that laws are not made for law-abiding citizens. Laws are made to prevent outlaws from having free reign and harming those that are just going about their business peacefully.

Similarly, institutions should be structured not only to be run by “good” people, but also to survive the tenure of the evil ones as well. Let us take this opportunity to make 2013 a year of Kenya’s renewal by focusing on institutions rather than personalities. 

Dr Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and senior lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Electoral team’s numeracy must be above reproach

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 23 December 2012

Just a day before the voter registration deadline, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) published a tally of the registered voters by December 16, 2012. Insofar as it was intended to spur voters to register in larger numbers before the closing day, it was a great strategy. It energised politicians who only see Kenyans as voting bundles that are counted by tribe or region, and they went all out to beg their perceived supporters to go and register.

However, worrying indicators of the IEBC’s facility with numbers emerged from a quick analysis of the figures presented in the document. No matter the explanation for them, these observations have a serious bearing on the outcome of the next General Election, with the potential of causing major conflict unless they are addressed.

Upon downloading the document from the IEBC website, I decided to do a simple numbers check. I randomly selected a few counties in the Rift Valley where I live, and added up the respective numbers of registered voters and the estimated voting population as presented by the IEBC. I then compared my calculated totals with those in the IEBC document.

The first county in which a discrepancy was immediately apparent was Samburu. The county’s three constituencies had respectively registered a paltry 34pc, 32pc and 17pc of the estimated voting population, and yet the county total was given as 51pc.

Obviously, this was impossible.

Adding up the numbers of expected voters from this county, it turned out that the estimated number of voters was understated by over 90,000. The real total percentage registration performance in Samburu County as at 16th December was therefore about 27pc, among the lowest in the country.

Similarly, although only one constituency out of the six in Uasin Gishu County had registered less than 70pc of the estimated voting population, the county performance was given as 64%. Closer examination revealed that the total estimated voting population was overstated by over 120,000, thus distorting the actual percentage performance in the county. The correct percentage performance for Uasin Gishu County would have been 90pc, rather than the stated 64pc.

In Nandi County, the total estimated voting population was significantly understated, yielding an actual percentage performance of 53pc instead of the IEBC’s 63pc.

The core business of the IEBC, as has been stated many times in the past, is counting voters and votes. If the commission demonstrates even a small degree of human error in the process of counting voters or votes, the confidence of voters in the electoral process is irrevocably eroded. Indeed, it is often argued that the former electoral commission’s failure to accurately count both the voters and the votes played a significant role in the violence after the 2007 elections.

The errors unearthed in this analysis are of such a magnitude that the commission needs to put in place a mechanism to proof-read any tallies they produce before releasing them to the public. Further, it is the expectation of any right-thinking Kenyan that heads ought to roll in the responsible department, in order to demonstrate the seriousness with which the commission takes these kinds of errors.

As far as elections are concerned, Kenyans expect the IEBC to be, like Caesar’s wife, above reproach. Kenyans must be reassured that the IEBC can actually count!; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli