One of the key indicators of democracy and good governance is peaceful elections because they help create the foundation for stable political transitions. However, the accent on peace seems to ignore the fact that a peaceful election on its own does not make a democracy and that peace can almost certainly be guaranteed if the electoral process is credible and legitimate.
The 2013 general elections were peaceful because active efforts were employed from Kenyans, government officials, political and religious leaders, civil society organizations, and young activists to embrace a discourse of peace and reject violence. These were all positive and meaningful steps, even though elections were far from perfect and marred with incompetence.
A democratic election conducted by an independent, non-partisan electoral body which is free, fair, credible and transparent is one where fundamental human rights and freedoms are respected. Article 38 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees every citizen’s right to regular elections that reflect the will of the electors, to make political choices, register as a voter, vote and vie for public office.
The dynamics of a free and fair election entail participation and choice; equality of participation and the vote; and impartiality and non-discrimination. Inclusive elections provide equal opportunities for eligible citizens to participate in selecting their representatives. All barriers hindering citizen participation like traditionally marginalized populations such as ethnic, religious minorities; women, youth and the elderly; and persons with disability should be removed
The civil society plays a vital role in the electoral process. Their presence in voter registration centres, polling and counting stations as neutral observers ensure a transparent and scrupulous process. To ensure the process is free and fair, there should be election observation by objective and impartial election monitors throughout the voting process so as to enhance the effectiveness of election observation exercise.
Elections are transparent when each step is open to scrutiny and stakeholders can independently verify whether the process is conducted honestly and accurately. The principle of transparency is linked to the fundamental right of citizens to seek, receive and impart information. Decision making processes must be open to scrutiny and reasonable opportunities for public input should be provided. Information related to all stages of the electoral cycle should be made available and accessible to citizens, including voters and candidates.
Peace may be crucial to most Kenyans, but it is just a product of the electoral process thus should not be used to measure the success of an election. If the electoral process is free, fair and credible then ultimately peace will be the result.
Written by Joanne Mwagwabi