Observations from the IFES Kenyan Election Event in Washington

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has the video up from their program last week in Washington with Kenyan IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan and IFES Country Director Michael Yard.

I found the program very useful and want to thank IFES for making this available.  With so many things going on right now in the region I have been hearing that people in Washington have not begun an intense focus on the Kenyan election preparation at this point, and I hope that this program will serve as a useful reminder of the huge scope of work to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time if Kenya is to be ready for a credible election process.

Michael Yard did a good job of emphasizing the magnitude of the task.  It has been widely recognized through the report of the Kreigler Commission and otherwise that the voter registration process was wholly inadequate in the last election (as reflected in Undersecretary of State Maria Otero‘s comment that “we recognize that over 2 million dead people voted”).    The IEBC says that they intend to implement a biometric registration system, which will obviously be a major undertaking.

In 2007 the number of polling stations was dramatically expanded to more than 20,000.  The domestic election monitoring program which had proven successful in 2002 was unfortunately not funded to make a commensurate increase and a high percentage of the polling stations were thus left without outside observers.  Nonetheless, with the increased demands placed on the voting system from the addition of voting for the new senate and the devolved local governments under the new constitution, the IEBC feels that they need to further reduce the number of voters at each polling station.  Their plans thus call for more than 40,000 polling stations.  This will place huge demands on both observation efforts and on the parties in deploying agents.

Hassan comes across as a “straight shooting” but soft spoken attorney, in contrast to the sometimes irascible Kivuitu from the 2007 ECK, and everyone is encouraged by the competitive screening and selection process for the new IEBC.  Nonetheless, we know now from hard experience that the pressures placed on the commissioners can be huge and it is crucial that active and transparent oversight by the donors supporting the election process be maintained throughout the effort to design and build a new national voting system.

It should also be noted that Parliament has not yet completed all of the necessary implementing legislation, including campaign finance laws, and most especially that the mechanism to handle the constitutional commitment to minimum representation of women in Parliament has not been resolved.  Of the major factors identified in the post-election settlement after the disaster in 2007, land reform has essentially been set aside and we can expect the new election to take place with IDPs outstanding from 2007-08, as well as from previous elections.  The cost of living, especially for food staples is more of a challenge than last time, and there has been no apparent counter to the reported flow of small arms into the potential Kenyan conflict zones following 2008.

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  1. Pingback: Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did” | AfriCommons Blog

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