The just-concluded voter registration was characterised by mass voter transfers, with close to 500,000 voters reported to have transferred to new polling stations. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) described this as largely suspicious and indicated they were conducting an analysis to ascertain the reasons for the many transfers.
The electoral body speculated the transfers could have been “motivated by change of residence” but we cannot also rule out the possibility of political mobilisation. There have been allegations of voter importation and zoning in a number of places. Two ethnic communities, for instance, accused each other of mobilising voters from without to outdo each other in Kariobangi. Consequently, tension built up and precipitated into violent conflict which saw one person get seriously injured. There were similar concerns in Westlands where it was alleged voters were mobilised from a neighbouring county.
Despite the murmurs, there is nothing wrong or illegal that prohibits a voter from transferring his or her vote to a polling station or constituency of their choice. But it is evident, as witnessed during the month-long voter registration that the stakes are high. With this comes the risk of electoral violence. Now, this is not one of those things we want to flatter, not after the infamous post-election violence of 2007/2008 that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands, as well as destroying property worth millions of shillings.
Previously, the law provided for checks to guard against arbitrary transfer of voters. A voter, for example, had to prove s/he had been a resident of an area for at least six months or had interest there of, say, running a business. The Elections Act of 2011 is devoid of such safeguards and all that a registered voter requires to do is to notify the electoral body of their intention to transfer within the stipulated period. The law makers must have been up to some mischief when crafting the current law and it is not difficult to decipher what it is. They can now ferry a bus full of people to register at their constituency of choice to influence the direction of the vote, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Even as IEBC does its analysis on the mass voter transfers, it is not clear what they can do with the outcome of that exercise to neutralise the imminent challenge.
If, indeed, the concerns raised in Kariobangi and Westlands are true, then there is a problem. This is not just because it is likely to stir ethnic animosity; rather, it is because it distorts democracy by denying people an opportunity to elect leaders of their choice. As such, voter importation distorts the concept of representation. The National Assembly, for instance, “represents the people of the constituencies and special interests” and deliberates on and resolves issues of concern to the people”. The Senate on the other hand represents the counties, and serves to protect their interest.
An elected representative will owe allegiance to their constituents lest they will be shown the door the next time they go to the ballot box (we are yet to see anything under the right of recall). If a representative is elected by voters who reside elsewhere, he or she will not feel obligated to carry out his or her duties and may end up drawing a salary not earned. It is even more disturbing if you consider the fact that politicians influence some aspects of development – Members of Parliament have the Constituency Development Fund and county women representatives now have the Affirmative Action Social Development Fund.
Imported voters will also distort the wishes of the constituents of an electoral unit. As the saying goes, only the wearer of the shoe knows where it hurts. Imported voters do not know the real issues facing the people, their priorities or concerns. It is, perhaps, for this reason that the issue of mass voter transfers is emotive. They may elect a political aspirant based on tribe, bribe or whatever other basis there may be, but seldom on their capacity to champion the interest of the constituents because they have no clue. If we can have political leaders elected in this manner, then we can as well forget about expecting much from them.
The only sure way to address these challenges is to amend the elections law to provide safeguards to forestall transfer of voters for wrong reasons. This cannot happen unless the law-makers propose and/or support attempts to amend the Elections Act.
Are there any Members of Parliament who can stand to be counted?
Writer is a communications practitioner