On August 9, 22.1 million registered Kenyans will go to the polls to elect the country’s fifth president and successor to the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta.
Even though the focus is mostly on the high-profile presidential contest, across the 47 counties, the electorate will also cast votes for county governors, parliament representatives and other lower-level positions.
Ahead of Tuesday’s elections, registered Kenyan voters in the Diaspora are 10,444 – more than double the number (4,223) in the last cycle. The number of registered voters in prison is also 7,483, a 44 percent increase from 5,182 in the last elections.
Kenyans in Diaspora constitute about three to four million people in total, according to data from the authorities. And an estimated 54,000 inmates are spread across the 134 correctional centres in the country.
Unlike in many other African countries, both sets of people are eligible to vote. This is in addition to the rest of the population who is above the age of 18 and have never been convicted for electoral-related offences.
‘’ But it comes with a caveat: prisoners can only vote in the presidential election – not other local elections’’, said a source.
The inmates first started voting in the 2017 elections. This was after civil society groups went to court after the promulgation of the 2010 constitution seeking to have prisoners registered as eligible voters.
In January 2013, a Nairobi court granted their wish but it was too late for the IEBC to include them in the 2013 elections.
Another community that is set to vote in the elections are the Shonas, who have been stateless since arriving as missionaries from Zimbabwe in 1959, until two years ago when more than 1,000 officially became citizens. This is their first time voting in Kenya.
Despite not being eligible for election after serving two terms as limited by the constitution, Kenyatta remains centre-stage in the polls. He is backing leading candidate Raila Odinga, his former archrival who is running for the presidency for a record fifth term.
The other main challenger is Deputy President William Ruto, who served two terms with Kenyatta but has since fallen out with his boss after the latter’s reconciliation with Odinga.
Electoral reforms, political climate
In 2007, more than half a million people were displaced and more than a thousand others killed after the electoral commission’s announcement of President Mwai Kibaki as the winner of the election over Odinga who is widely believed to have been the true winner.
A coalition government was then sworn in, with Kibaki as president and Odinga as prime minister – and they helped enact a new constitution to reform the electoral process.
There were also pockets of violence in subsequent 2013 and 2017 elections, with the Supreme Court operating under the supremacy of the constitution, declaring a rerun of the presidential elections.
The new constitution gave the judiciary more powers but some other amendments include the proviso for more women’s representation and the elaborate bill of rights.
One section of the new constitution includes stringent criteria for leadership that made some candidates become ineligible to contest elections – for example, the impeached former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was barred from contesting in the upcoming elections to be governor in Mombasa County. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission or IEBC also disqualified aspirants in the country who have been previously convicted in court.
Even though it has only been partially implemented, it also effectively helped soften the political climate by “causing devolution and decentralisation of powers and lowering the stakes in presidential elections”, reinforcing institutions instead, said Nicolas Delaunay, who covers Kenya for the International Crisis Group.
And that means that speculation about possible violence in these elections, which might match 2007 levels is unlikely to happen.
“Kenya has evolved a lot since that time and even though there are tensions rising, they are mostly between elites and actually social tensions between communities have been at their lowest during an election time in recent memory,” he said. “There’s always a level of unpredictability … but if there’s any violence, we don’t expect it to reach the levels of 2007.”
SOURCE: Al Jazeera