Low Voter Turnout and boycott have blemished Kenyatta’s Standing and left Raila Stronger
By Suba Churchill
As tallying of results for the repeat presidential elections held on October 26, 2017 comes to a close, one thing is beginning to become certain: the low voter turnout has left an indelible ink on President Uhuru’s victory, and greatly undermined his political standing and the legitimacy of his mandate in his second term as president of the Republic of Kenya.
And that is still based on the assumption that the repeat polls will not suffer the ignominy of annulment by the Supreme Court once again. The first presidential elections held on August 8, 2017 were invalidated by the Supreme Court on September 1, and a repeat poll ordered within sixty days in accordance with the Constitution.
The period leading to the repeat elections was characterized by court cases that went on to the eve of the repeat polls, with activists allied to Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu, a coalition of like-minded civil society organizations promoting dialogue on the electoral process seeking to stop the vote altogether to allow more time for talks on outstanding issues.
Aware of the blow that the low turnout has dealt the party and its presidential contender and running mate William Ruto, the bravado displayed by Jubilee party stalwarts that characterized the campaign period is slowly giving way to reflective and pensive explanations as to why the more than 10 million votes the party had hoped to garner and send “mtu wa kitendawili” home once and for all will not be achieved.
In Nyeri County, Governor Wahome Gakuru has blamed the low voter turnout on bar operators whom he accused of defying his directive to close their businesses until after the polls. According to the governor, this is among the reasons voters did not turn out in the numbers he had expected to cast their ballots in favour of the ruling party and its flag bearer Uhuru Kenyatta.
Not to be left out in explaining the plethora of reasons as to why voter turnout was not as impressive as in the August 8 polls was Nandi County Governor Stephen Sang.
Being the youngest governor ever elected after Kenya adopted the devolved system of governance in 2010, Mr. Sang sought refuge in the fact that a number of young voters, especially university students were not able to travel from their various campuses to the polling stations in Nandi County where they registered as voters to cast their votes.
Never mind that the University of Nairobi, the largest public university in the country, Maseno as well as Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology have remained closed for the entire period leading to the repeat poll. Moi University, which is the other institution to blame for the low voter turnout is within a distance of less than 2 hours of travel by road to any part of Nandi County.
Any voter keen to exercise his or her democratic right would still have travelled in between lectures to cast their ballots. After all, acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi declared Wednesday a national holiday to enable voters to travel to areas where they registered as voters in good time and cast their vote on Thursday.
Also to blame are elements of the weather. During the campaigns, the country was treated to innumerable instances where enthusiastic Jubilee supporters braved rains to listen to their leaders.
This time around, when there was another opportunity to affirm that support and enthusiasm in act and deed, one leader after another have come out to blame the low voter turnout on the rains that chose to fall again on the polling day. This time around, the rains seem to have been too torrential and unrelenting for the supporters to bear!
Attempts by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to strike a truce between the political class on reforms at the election management body ahead of the repeat polls came a cropper on a number of occasions, even after the Jubilee Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale suggested that the election management body meets the two leading political formations – Jubilee and NASA together rather than separately.
The first time such a meeting was called on September 7 at the Anniversary Towers where the IEBC is based, Jubilee failed to show up at the appointed time, demanding that NASA should be present at the meeting. This was the case again on October 3 when a joint meeting between the IEBC, Jubilee and NASA at the Bomas of Kenya failed to materialize after President Kenyatta sent his Deputy William Ruto instead of coming in person.
Jubilee and its leadership may soon find out that in light of the low voter turnout in its strongholds and the massive boycott in NASA strongholds, their tactics before the polls may have achieved the unintended consequence of strengthening NASA and weakening its bargaining power after the repeat polls
• Suba Churchill is the Presiding Convener of the Civil Society Reference Group and member of Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu.