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Kenya – Expert Briefing

Click here for 2 October update

  • Kenya is a constitutional republic which transited from single-party rule to multi-partyism in 1992
  • Under the 2010 Constitution, a general election is held every five years. This includes polls for the president and deputy president (on the same ballot); 47 senators; 290 members of the National Assembly plus 47 women representatives (one elected in each county); 47 county governors; and 1,450 members of county assemblies
  • The president is limited by the constitution to serving for a maximum of two five-year terms
  • The winner of the presidential elections is required to secure 50% +1 of the total votes cast and 25% of votes in at least half of the 47 counties. If no one meets these requirements, then a run-off is held
  • In addition to the 47 elected senators, 16 women members, two youth members (one male, one female) and two disabled members (one male, one female) are nominated to the Senate
  • In addition to the 337 elected members of the National Assembly, a further twelve are nominated by parliamentary parties to represent special interests
  • The annual cost of the two-chamber parliament is 2% of the national budget, compared to a global average of 0.57% for countries with populations between 10 and 50 million
  • Follow the campaign on Twitter using the hashtags – #ElectionsKE, #KenyaDecides, #Ballot2017

For the first three decades after independence in 1963, Kenya had a one-party system of government, the sole party being the Kenya African National Union (KANU). This was led by President Jomo Kenyatta from 1963 until his death in 1978, and then by President Daniel arap Moi.

In 1991, Section 2(A) of the Constitution of Kenya, 1963 was repealed, allowing for multi-party democracy and introducing a two five-year term limit for the presidency. The following year, in 1992, the first multi-party elections were held. The presidency was won by the incumbent, President Moi, who also secured victory in 1997. In both polls Moi’s performance was lacklustre – he received 34.6% and 40.6% of the votes respectively – but the opposition was divided. KANU also won the majority of seats in parliament in both elections.

As stipulated by the constitution, President Moi retired in 2002 and selected political newcomer Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, as his preferred successor. The opposition, having learnt from the previous two elections, joined together to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) to challenge Kenyatta and KANU. The coalition was led by Mwai Kibaki.

Kibaki won by a landslide, gaining more than 60% of the presidential vote against Kenyatta’s 30% in what was generally judged to be the most democratic, free and fair elections in Kenya’s history. NARC also won a clear majority of seats in parliament. This brought an end almost 40 years of KANU dominance. Senior NARC politician, Raila Odinga, proclaimed the “dawn of a new era” in Kenyan politics.

The 2007 elections pitted Odinga, at the head of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), against the incumbent Kibaki and the Party of National Unity (PNU). Kibaki was declared the winner with 46.4% of the votes (4.584 million) against Raila Odinga’s 44.1% (4.352 million) in elections described by both international and regional electoral observers as highly flawed. Odinga’s party ODM won the most parliamentary seats (99 out of 210) against PNU’s 43.

Following the elections, unprecedented violence erupted across the country, leaving more than 1,300 people dead and a further 300,000 people displaced.  The violence was widely regarded as an “existential threat” to Kenya. After eight weeks of intense uncertainty a power-sharing peace deal between Kibaki and Odinga, brokered by a group of “eminent persons” led by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, was finally concluded at the end of February 2008. Under the agreement, Kibaki retained the presidency, Odinga became prime minister and cabinet posts were divided between their parties, forming a grand coalition government.

While peace was restored, the arrangement proved an uneasy one. The two principals showed little commitment to reigning in impunity. Years after the chaos, victims of the post-election violence were still seeking justice. Against the backdrop of a complete lack of political will to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, or even establish a local tribunal, the International Criminal Court began an investigation.

On a positive note, the grand coalition government led a number of judicial and constitutional reforms, culminating in the adoption of a new constitution, endorsed by popular referendum August 2010. Devolution to 47 new county governments was the most radical transformation introduced by the new constitution. Equally significant was the creation of a Bill of Rights and the framework for land reforms, a persistently contentious issue in Kenya.

As was the case in 2002, the major political parties formed alliances in the run-up to the 2013 elections. Kenyatta’s new party, The National Alliance (TNA), teamed up with William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) to form the Jubilee Coalition. The other major grouping was the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) led by Raila Odinga and including his ODM party, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM) and Moses Wetangula’s Ford Kenya.

The 4 March 2013 elections were the first under Kenya’s new constitution and were overseen by a new electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). In addition to voting for the president, Kenyans cast their votes for members of the national assembly, the senate, county governors, county women representatives and members of county assemblies.

Uhuru Kenyatta, who along with his running mate Ruto had been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity as a result of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, was able to win in the first round, polling 50.5% of the votes against Raila Odinga’s 43.7%. The Jubilee Coalition also won the lion’s share of the seats in the National Assembly and the Senate. Amid widespread criticism of alleged failings on the part of the IEBC, many of which were subsequently proven to be true, Raila Odinga contested the results.

The six-judge bench of Kenya’s Supreme Court, chaired by the then Chief Justice Dr. Willie Mutunga, ruled that the elections had been free and fair, thus upholding Uhuru’s election as Kenya’s fourth president.

Politics in Kenya has historically revolved around ethnicity and elections are won by exploiting ethnic and regional divisions. It is no surprise that political parties are once again striving for alliances that promise to deliver the most votes in the 2017 polls. President Kenyatta will be running for re-election under the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP). The main opposition will be from the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition. At the time of writing, it had not been decided who will be NASA’s flag bearer, but Odinga is a likely candidate.

Kenyatta will be basing his campaign on his development record – especially the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project and progress towards making Kenya an oil exporting country. The opposition on the other hand will accuse the ruling coalition of rampant corruption and highlight unfulfilled election promises.

At the start of election year a number of key changes began to take shape in the political arena. President Kenyatta signed the controversial Elections Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, which allows for manual back-up for the conduct of voting, transmission and tallying of election results. This had been opposed by the opposition, arguing that it could provide the means of rigging the elections.

With barely seven months to the polls, a new team of electoral commissioners was appointed. Led by Wafula Chebukati, they have received approval from both sides of the political divide. This is good news, especially given the poor record and reputation of the previous IEBC. Part of the commissioners’ work will be to oversee a nation-wide voter registration aimed at registering an additional six million new voters against the current 15.9 million voters. Beyond steering the voter registration exercise, the commissioners understand the critical importance to Kenya of peaceful, fair and credible elections; the new IEBC chairman has indicated he is up to the task.

Zilper Audi is a Chevening Scholar studying for an MA in Public Policy at King’s College London. Prior to this, she worked at the International Centre for Tax and Development (in the UK) and at the Institute of Economic Affairs (in Kenya). She tweets at @AudiZilper

Update – 2 October

On 11 August, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, leader of the Jubilee Party, the winner of the presidential poll by 8.2 million votes (54.3%) to 6.8 million (44.7%).

On 18 August, ten days after Kenya’s presidential election, the National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition coalition submitted a petition to the Supreme Court claiming that extensive vote-tampering and other irregularities had occurred. Raila Odinga, NASA’s presidential candidate, declared that he would not accept the victory of a “computer-generated leader”.

On 1 September, Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled the result of the presidential election by a majority of 4-2, declaring that the poll was “not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and the applicable law”. A re-run was ordered within 60 days. Many media commentators described the ruling as the first of its kind in Africa. The results of the county, parliamentary and senate polls stand.

The Supreme Court delivered its full judgment on 20 September, expanding on the reasons for nullifying the presidential election. Amid mounting concerns about the feasibility of organising a poll re-run in such a short timeframe, the IEBC announced 26 October as the new date.