By Kap Kirwok
October 13th 2012
Will the coming Kenyan elections be rigged? Of course. Will it matter? It depends.
Elections have always been rigged – here in Kenya and, yes, even the United States of America.
It is all a question of magnitude and perception. And it all depends on what we mean exactly by the word rig. If by rigging we mean deliberate manipulation of the election process with intent to gain unfair advantage, then we can assert with certainty that the Kenyan elections (as those in the USA) will be rigged.
In the USA, republican controlled state legislatures have been accused of enacting tough voter identification laws that are guaranteed to make it harder for minorities, students, the poor, the elderly and the disabled –all traditionally known to support democratic candidates –to vote. The republicans argue that they are simply strengthening voter laws to prevent electoral fraud. They cite rising cases of deception in the registration and voting process. They call it fraud prevention. The democrats call it intentional voter suppression. Both parties claim they are fighting for the integrity of the vote.
Do not be fooled. Each side knows exactly what they are doing: using sophisticated methods to tilt the election outcome in their favour. And in a tightly fought election battle, any amount of rigging can have real impact on the outcome.
Whilst it is virtually guaranteed that there will be a certain amount of poll fiddling in the coming elections, what we have to worry about is the scale and impact.
Why am I certain that there will be rigging during the coming elections? There are at least three reasons.
The first is the obvious one: as human beings, we seem to take strange pleasure in breaking the 8th commandment (“thou shall not steal”). When no one is seeing, some people will not hesitate to pinch what does not belong to them. Sometimes the urge is apparently so great that our own minds deceive us that no one is watching.
Last April, the world was treated to a theft spectacle that left many wondering whether to laugh or cry. The Czech president, Vaclav Claus, was caught stealing a pen in broad day light at a public ceremony in Chile. A pen! Check it on YouTube if you do not believe me. Okay, granted, it was a pen encrusted with semi-precious stones. But a president stealing a pen?
The second reason is simply this: Those planning to do it think they can get away with it.
Impunity is a gospel that has been ‘preached’ to the nation since its birth – with increasing intensity over the years. In the era of coalition politics, impunity has virtually become a new religion. The evidence is everywhere. We have seen it in the endless list of scandals. We see it every day on the roads.
Impunity, and its twin, corruption, are thoroughly and truly now part of the nation’s DNA.
The third reason is the very high stakes involved in the coming elections. Let us consider a hypothetical rigging scenario straight from the devils’ kitchen.
Assume you are facing a grave trial at The Hague. Once the trial begins, you have no control over its course: it could lead to a conviction. You have seen people similarly charged get convicted and sentenced to long jail terms. You have massive support from your ethnic base. And you have massive resources at your disposal. You make up your mind that you will not obey the trial summons.
Your main opponent has a slight edge over you in national polls. In a fair and square fight, he might beat you. If that were to happen, you suspect your opponent will cooperate with the ICC and have you arrested. You are determined to either rig the elections to ensure you, or another candidate that will be under your thumb, becomes president. You must stop your opponent from becoming president at all costs.
You do your homework. You have an army of clever strategists. You make sure you have influence over national security, especially in the counties. It would be useful too if election officials in crucial constituencies were your implants. You cleverly plant them in strategic places.
In the meantime, you use your considerable financial resources to buy political support or intimidate opponents across the country. But your main opponent’s popularity is not weakening! On voting day, you activate your machinery and rig the elections and make sure you are declared the winner.
At your swearing in ceremony, you say “I call upon the international community to respect the will of the people of Kenya.”
Will this scenario come to pass? Let us hope not.