Back to the ballot: on the annulled Kenyan presidential vote

The Kenyan Supreme Court’s annulment of the presidential vote is a bitter-sweet victory for an ethnically divided country exasperated by the brutal violence that has marred successive polls. Friday’s decision is a challenge to the election commission, which needs to repair its tarnished reputation. It is also a challenge to the political parties, which need to find a dignified way of settling election disputes. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s opponent, Raila Odinga, a three-time contender, alleged that the integrity of the polls was compromised during the cumbersome data transformation process, from ballot boxes to computers. The violence that followed the declaration of the results exacerbated tribal divisions, and left at least 20 people dead. It was not of the order of the post-poll violence in 2007, when more than 1,000 people were killed and for which several politicians faced trial at the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity. The 2013 campaign, held under a new constitution, was equally chaotic and controversial and the final verdict was challenged by Mr. Odinga. Despite an overhaul of the poll mechanism, this year there was increased scepticism over the prospects for free and fair polls following the murder of a top official from the electoral body. Given the absence of the institutional prerequisites of a functioning modern democracy, there is the real danger of a steady erosion of popular legitimacy for any form of representative government. But there is a positive dimension to Kenyan politics. Governments have deferred to the principle of periodic renewal of the popular mandate ever since the country returned to multi-party democracy in the 1990s. This is in stark contrast to the practice in some African nations where incumbents resort to constitutional fiat to stay in office almost indefinitely.


For all these reasons, the Kenyan court’s decision for a repeat election appeals to common sense, despite its characterisation by some as relatively peaceful. The rerun, to be held within 60 days, is of course bound to raise genuine doubts about the efficacy of the electoral mechanism to undertake another mammoth and expensive operation, with no guarantee of a clear result. Mr. Odinga’s supporters are naturally enthused about another chance at the hustings; but there would be few takers for any more outcries of foul play, whatever the outcome. In an assertion of judicial independence, the court has taken a calculated gamble on the country’s democratic future. Politics should commensurately evolve to a level of accountability where the habit of exploiting traditional loyalties gives way to respect for human rights and observance of the rule of law. Kenya is in the midst of a prolonged drought, and many face the risk of starvation. Kenyans need, above all, a stable government committed to mitigating their sufferings.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 1:56:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/back-to-the-ballot/article19615975.ece

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