The highly anticipated polls are finally here and in many ways, this edition of the elections holds historical significance and is unique in many ways.
These are the 12th elections in Kenya’s young history, the 11th since independence, and the second under the new Constitution, which was passed in 2010. While being different, the elections also present various questions.
In 2013, Kenya recorded its highest voter turnout, at 86 per cent. It will be interesting to see whether the turnout remains favourable or if there will be a decline.
The 2013 elections registered a disappointing 57,801 more voters than in 2007, which is the lowest increase in the country’s voter numbers between any two successive elections. This time, however, the country has witnessed an overwhelmingly positive increase in the number of voters, from 14,352,533 registered voters to 19,611,423, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) register that was updated in June after the KPMG audit.
The number of candidates contesting in these elections is the highest ever witnessed in the nation’s history. A total of 14,552 candidates seek to fill 1,882 elective posts. A considerable number of these candidates are running as independents after they were eliminated during the party primaries.
Another unique feature about these elections is the high level of interest around the seemingly minor yet prestigious seat of member of county assembly (MCA). The interest is mainly due to the power this post wields, as well as the abundant benefits that come with it such as trips to foreign countries and numerous allowances.
Women representation improved slightly over the 2013 election due to creation of the woman representative post. However, women representation is still disappointing, particularly in the higher posts. According to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Kenya has the lowest parliamentary female representation in East Africa at 19 per cent.
The outgoing Senate, Parliament, and county assemblies had only 18, 68, and 82 women respectively, falling short of the gender requirement. With more women expressing an interest in these elections, it will be interesting to see whether female representation improves.
The youth have also taken a more active role in politics, including 23-year-old Suzanne Silantoi, Babu Owino, musician Jaguar, activist Boniface Mwangi, and Steve Mbogo, the last three vying to represent Starehe constituency.
The youth are also expected to play an important role in shaping the outcome of the elections, considering that more than 50 per cent of the registered voters comprise young people.
As it has been said before, this election is the most costly in Kenya’s history and among the most expensive in Africa. Many are, however, sceptical about whether the high costs will translate to benefits despite numerous assurances from the IEBC. In 2013, the biometric voter registration was an embarrassing failure, leading to a loss of around Sh9.95 billion ($95 million) of taxpayers’ money, which was the cost of acquiring the technology. The election has gobbled up more than Sh49.9 billion, most of which has been used to acquire the KIEMS technology and election materials and hire and train personnel. This is indeed worrying considering that the public debt has risen sharply to 53 per cent of the country’s GDP.
The campaigns have also seen a fair share of money at play, with politicians using millions to woo voters. The stakes have been upped this election season with helicopters playing a bigger role and aspirants for top seats soliciting funds from the who-is-who in Kenya. The top two aspirants, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, have each used more than Sh5 billion in their campaigns.
It remains to be seen whether the spending by the candidates and the Government will be worth it. In particular, the success of the KIEMS system will justify the high cost of its acquisition as well as prove the ability of IEBC to deliver credible polls. Hopefully, the system will not be another waste of taxpayers’ money.
After the 2013 elections, there was widespread excitement after only 60 out of 102 vying incumbent parliamentary candidates were re-elected. In a shocking development, 60 per cent of the Parliament elected in 2013 comprised new candidates, portraying a high level of dissatisfaction among voters. This is not the first time a high number of incumbents have failed to retain office. In the 1969 elections, the country’s second polls and the first after independence, 77 of 158 incumbents lost. In the next elections, in 1974, 11 more incumbents lost, bringing the losing incumbents to 88 out of 158. In 1979, about half the incumbents were voted out. In the next elections, the number of incumbents who retained their seats increased to 60 per cent.
With numerous complaints from the electorate over poor services and corruption among their elected officials, it will be interesting to see whether incumbent candidates, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, will retain their seats. A significant number of incumbents lost during the party primaries, some of whom opted to vie as independents.
There has been alarm over the spread of fake news, especially on online platforms. After a fake newspaper cost Dr Paul Otuoma a nomination on the ODM ticket, the power of fake news in wreaking havoc has been proved. The true extent of the damage caused will, however, only be known after the elections.
Raila Odinga is either going to win for the first time or lose for the fourth time, having run for the presidency three times before - in 1997, 2007, and 2013. If he triumphs, Kenyans are curious to see how he leads the country, given that he has been a sharp critic of previous administrations. Should he lose in his quest to deliver Kenyans to ‘Canaan’, what will follow? Will he give up his presidential dream and assume a less active role in politics or will he vie again in 2022 at the age of 77?