• Irungu Houghton

The closest polls in Kenyan history?

Updated: Aug 19


Photo Credit: Luis Tato/AFP

This week saw the closest electoral race in Kenyan history. Avoiding broken nails, rising blood pressure and future post-electoral stress syndrome (PESS) will need self-care and respect for each other’s political choices over this weekend. What other insights can we make from our relatively open and competitive democracy?


Elections day went relatively well as expected. Opening delays, failure of 200 KIEMS kits and the postponement of the Mombasa and Kakamega elections were frustrating for many but did not constitute an electoral failure. 16.5 million voters chose to exercise their historical and constitutional right to vote. Some even crossed the Uganda Kenya border and others showed up dressed only in a towel and armed with their national ID and toothbrush. 35 per cent of voters could have but chose to stay away citing a lack of faith in candidates, electoral system, and a future government.


65 per cent turnout is far lower than past elections and the exit polls had predicted. What happened to those huge rally crowds? Was the absence of mobilisation fees and attendance handouts a factor? Paid participation for media optics has its limitations and may have cost many this election.


It is too early to analyse the character of the thirteenth Parliament. It is also premature to declare which of the next round of county governments will be corruption-watch hotspots or spaces for shared prosperity and freedom. We can however commend the new culture of concession speeches. A personal favourite was Nixon Korir’s mature public congratulatory message to Lang’ata MP Elect Felix “Jalang’o” Odiwour. More of these will reduce public anxiety and violence.


Women candidates and supporters were verbally or physically assaulted across 200 polling stations. Electoral Commission officials were disrupted or attacked across at least seven counties and tallying centres in Kwale (Matuga), Mombasa (Marycliff), Kirinyaga (Kianyaga), Wajir (Wajir North), West Pokot (Kapenguria), Nairobi (Mathare) and Vihiga (Hamisi) among others. Working closely with elections monitors and the public, Police Service and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions officers have moved to swiftly de-escalate supporter tensions and arrest election offenders in over 100 incidents.


In one of the most appalling election offences, Kimilili MP elect Didymus Barasa went from candidate to fugitive and finally, arrested suspect in under 48 hours in the murder of one of his constituents Brian Olunga. The police must also arrest the killers of Peter Adina of Obunga, Kisumu County. IPOA must investigate the Police Officer who sexually assaulted the Bungoma based National Youth Service officer and those GSU personnel caught on camera violently beating the Mombasa public for prosecution.


One of the most remarkable features of this election has been the IEBC open portal that has allowed party agents, monitors, and the election enthusiasts to analyse those critical 34A and 34B forms. While not fool proof, this has brought a higher standard of transparency and reduced the scope for mischief, rigging claims and post-election violence. Sadly, candidates and supporters have chosen to post false results and misleading information on social media. Citizens are advised for their own sanity and our collective safety to treat them as either opinions or provisional figures. Let’s wait for the IEBC to announce the official figures.


Only evidence-based, transparent, swift, and regular IEBC updates will reduce anxiety. We urge fact-checking organisations and social media platform moderators to continue fact-checking and calling out the lies. We have learned painfully that vitu kwa dijito ni tufauti kwa ground this year.


Although the Presidential winner has not been announced at the time of writing, one thing is clear. The fifth president is likely to be elected with slightly more than 30 per cent of the electorate. 4.5 million didn't register to vote, 8 million didn’t vote on the day and a possible 7 million voted against the winner. The fifth president will require a strategy to reach and enrol close to 20 million voters over the next five years.


Congratulations to both winners and losers, thank you for rising to serve us. God bless Kenya.


This opinion was published in the weekly Saturday Standard column 13 August 2022 #StandardSettingKE