Will free elections ever deliver democracy in Kenya?
7 months ago, 6 Dec 17:33
Kenya’s transition to a multiparty democracy in 1991 was one of the most promising cases of political change in Africa. Before then, the Kenya African National Union had monopolised power since outlawing political opposition in 1982. The transition from a single to a multiparty state was a truly significant event. Kanu faced its first real challenge since Independence in multiparty presidential elections held in 1992. But the party didn’t lose its grip on power until president Daniel arap Moi’s “anointed” successor lost to opposition leader Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 election. The next presidential election of 2007 were marked by political violence in which more than 1,500 people were killed following claims that the two major candidates had manipulated the results. Despite this history of political instability, the country’s new democratic direction was seemingly confirmed this year when the Kenyan Supreme Court overturned the results of the August 8 presidential election. In a historic ruling for Africa, it called for the poll to be repeated. Initially, many praised the court for upholding democracy. But weeks later the same court upheld Kenyatta’s second victory. A spokesman for the opposition coalition asserted that members of the Supreme Court had been intimidated. The turn of events in favour of President Kenyatta is not surprising. It suggests that the process of free elections was never intended to help the country democratise. This mirrors events in other seemingly transitioning countries such as Zimbabwe or Senegal. What is more, the process of opening up the political system could – in and of itself – never have been expected to deliver democracy. This was the case in Ukraine, where shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, elections were expected to bring about a process of democratisation similar to Poland’s in 1989. But democracy never arrived in the Ukraine. Instead, the country plunged deeper into authoritarianism. In Kenya’s case, elections have been used to bolster the legitimacy of an autocratic regime. While Kenya holds free and regular elections, political elites regularly intimidate political opposition as well as journalists and the judiciary. This effectively skews the results of each election in favour of the government. Recent research on transitioning countries looks at how they have held regular multiparty elections at the national level, yet violated minimum democratic standards. The research suggests that since the end of the Cold War, countries like Kenya, Turkey, Ukraine and Zimbabwe have evolved the most common form of non-democratic rule in the world. As multiparty states, they have combined elements of both democracy and autocracy. Their rulers have learnt to use free multiparty elections in their favour. Kenya’s story is a reminder that authoritarian regimes – even those that look like democracies – are unlikely to go away anytime soon. But most scholars agree that to complete their transition countries like Kenya have to meet a number of criteria. These include free, fair, and competitive elections, full adult suffrage, freedom of the press, speech and association, and an executive free from external influence. The last point indicates that no military, religious or civilian organisation in the country can override the decisions of a fairly elected executive. While Kenya ...
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