Logistical challenges and disputes during Kenya’s primaries last month have raised concerns about the nationwide polls in August and how best to avoid a repeat of the deadly post-election violence in 2007.
When poll results are contested, the final decision often lies with the courts.
“Electoral cases cannot be treated in the same way as other matters that come before the courts, because of their inherent political sensitivity, the high public interest in their outcomes, the intense bursts in which electoral petitions are filed and the short time limits within which they have to be dispensed,” said Irene Khan, the director general of the International Development Law Organization.
The IDLO, along with Kenya’s judiciary, released recommendations ahead of the August elections, in which Kenyans will be voting in local, parliamentary, gubernatorial and presidential races.
Political tensions have been climbing since last year over the organization of the upcoming polls, and fears of violence have been climbing as well. Disputes over the results of the 2007 election killed more than 1,000 people.
But Khan says there is reason to be optimistic this year.
“In an environment marked by ethnic tension and low public trust in political institutions that had triggered the post-election violence in 2007, the successful management of election petitions by the Kenyan judiciary was one of several key factors responsible for the relatively peaceful elections and transfer of power here in this country in 2013,” she said.
The report says 188 petitions were filed in 2013 challenging the results of those polls, but the courts managed to finalize all the disputes within the mandated six-month period.
The judiciary is prepared for issues that may arise in August, Keriako Tobiko, Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said in a statement.
“The Director of Public Prosecutions has put in place measures to deal with electoral offenses which include the constitution of a team of 105 prosecutors to be active in electoral offenses” according to the statement. “They have been trained and they are spread all over the country in all the 47 counties and 120 court stations. The Director of Public Prosecution again has put in place a 24-hour call center that is manned by prosecutors, and this call center is also a secretariat that acts as a rapid response team to all electoral offenses.”
The IDLO says a strong dispute-resolution system is key to avoiding violence and ensuring the legitimacy of results, but voters must understand the system.
“Electoral justice should not be restricted to elites or well-resourced petitioners,” Khan said, “but must be made available to all those who feel disenfranchised and excluded. And here the judiciary plays an important role in its public outreach activities, to inform and to engage.”
However, lack of faith in the independence of the judiciary remains a challenge, according to skeptics.