27 February 2013

Kenya: Voter Bribery in Kenya Compromises Democracy

Wajir — Every morning, Ernest Sikobe, a 30-year-old resident of the Kayole neighbourhood in Nairobi's Embakasi constituency, leads a group of friends to visit the local offices of various political parties.

"We join groups of people waiting in huddles monitoring the [campaign offices] to get a share of the money the candidates dish out to potential voters," he told Sabahi.

On a given day, Sikobe said he receives between 50 shillings ($.60) and 200 shillings ($2.30), depending on the seat the candidates are vying for and whether the voter can commit to bring more voters to support the candidate. A gubernatorial candidate pays more than a county ward representative candidate, for example.

Rosemary Auma, a 32-year-old resident of the Kawangware neighbourhood in Nairobi, said the majority of people who turn up at the political parties' offices for kickbacks are unemployed.

"I have received money from three presidential candidates' campaign teams. Of course not directly from them, but through their point persons on the ground," she told Sabahi, adding that the rate and amount of payments increase as election day approaches.

Mukhtar Osman Dahir of the lobby group Bunge la Wananchi (The People's Assembly) said candidates are violating elections laws that prohibit giving money or gifts in return for votes.

"There were blatant claims of bribery and manipulation during the January 17th and 18th political party primaries and more bribery incidences during the ongoing campaigns, but no one has been charged," he told Sabahi. He said if existing laws are not enforced, those involved in bribery are emboldened to continue.

Cyprian Nyamwamu, chief executive officer of the National Convention Executive Council, said voter bribery compromises the quality of the candidates.

"Why would someone spend millions of shillings to get elected if they are not driven by greed to misappropriate public funds? Candidates who bribe their way into leadership normally spend their term embezzling development funds to recover what they spent during the campaigns and also prepare for the next elections," he told Sabahi.

Nairobi-based lawyer Laban Osoro said the campaign finance bill that parliament failed to pass before dissolving in January would have helped eradicate or reduce voter bribery.

The law would have required full disclosure, regulated sources of funding, and set spending limits for candidates and their political parties during elections. "Instead of paying voters to come to their rallies and voting for them, the law would have encouraged issue-based politics," he told Sabahi.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chief Executive Officer James Oswago said the commission is currently investigating at least 10 bribery cases.

Actions will be taken as stipulated by election laws against those found culpable, including removing or barring them from contesting and jail terms, he told Sabahi.

"We have put in place measures to curb the vices because we are aware that voter bribery goes a notch higher as polling day approaches," he said. "The crowds that normally idle around at the polling centres will not be allowed and the police are under strict instructions to rein in any offender that is found."

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