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Countdown to the Presidential Election in Kenya

Countdown to the Presidential Election in Kenya

by Magali Rheault

In less than 150 days, Kenyans will cast a ballot to choose their next president. But as March 4, 2013, grows near, there appears to be a great deal of confusion in Kenya about the election process. Gallup results from a nationally representative survey of 2,400 Kenyans conducted July 26-Aug. 17, 2012, are telling.

Kenya's electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), requires that Kenyans must have a new voting card to cast a ballot. According to the IEBC, former voting cards are invalid to vote in the upcoming election. Among the 74% of Kenyans aged 18 and older who say they are registered to vote, only 32% say they have an IEBC voting card. Further, some Kenyans who say they have an IEBC voting card may be under the mistaken impression that the old cards will still be valid.

This reveals that most Kenyans who think they are properly registered are not, highlighting confusion about the new voting rules.

What happens in Kenya in the months leading up to the election is important for many reasons, the most urgent of which is to avoid a repeat of the violence that engulfed the country in 2007 after the last presidential election.

Beyond the sheer loss of life and the trauma Kenyans experienced, is the economic impact of the violence -- the destruction of local businesses and the drop in foreign investment and tourism revenue.

There is also the message this electoral violence has conveyed to Kenyans, fellow Africans, and others around the world: When people lose confidence in their institutions to handle issues, they may decide to take matters into their own hands.

Other results from the Gallup survey, presented at an event in Nairobi on Oct. 5, 2012, paint a cautious picture:

  • 72% of adults 18 and older say they believe the judicial system is prepared to handle any dispute of electoral results from the upcoming presidential election;
  • 53% say they have confidence in the honesty of elections;
  • 73% say they have confidence in their local police to ensure people's safety during the presidential election; and
  • 23% think there will be a repeat of post-election violence after the 2013 election.

While the electoral commission administering the entire process plays an important role in what happens next, Kenyans' willingness to accept the election outcome -- whatever it may be -- will be critical to peace. But of course, that willingness lies, in large part, in people's belief that the system is transparent and that the rule of law can prevail. In light of the confusion about voter requirements and registration, it also remains to be seen how many Kenyans will actually be able to vote.

In the months leading to the election, we will report on Kenyans' views of the election process, presidential candidates, the judicial system, the International Criminal Court proceedings, and perceptions of peace and security. The surveys, funded by the East Africa Index, a Kenya-based research organization, will highlight the most pertinent findings about Kenya.


Magali Rheault is Regional Director, Sub-Saharan Africa, at Gallup.

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