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COMPROMISES

Democracies are not so different after all

Who would have thought there'll be talk of 'protecting the vote' in the US?

In Summary
  • I believe a direct line can be drawn from Gore conceding to Bush and Raila coming to terms with Kibaki’s second term.
  • If indeed the upcoming US presidential election is judged by any partisans to have been compromised by “stolen votes”, will this lead to any serious violence?

I never thought I would live to see the day when I would stumble on an American website called ‘Protect the Vote’. This website explained that with just under 100 days to the November 3 US presidential election, the activists behind it were organising “coalitions of voters” ready to mobilise if Donald Trump refuses to accept the election outcome.

There have also been articles in some of the most prestigious American newspapers, speculating on this as a very real possibility. That if he loses, Trump will announce that his votes have been stolen and thereafter refuse to leave the White House.

In Kenya it has long been established, ever since our return to multiparty democracy in 1992, that if as a leading opposition presidential candidate, you do not “protect your vote”, then you have effectively lost already.

For in the absence of the eternal vigilance that we are told is the price of liberty, the nameless legions of “deep state operatives” which every Kenyan government has at its disposal, would stuff ballots in the most shameless manner to predetermine the outcome.

 

In at least four presidential elections past, I was asked much the same question by distinguished foreigners who had been sent to Kenya as official election observers. They wanted me to explain to them why something as simple as a general election, should be such a troublesome event here in Kenya. And why all major political parties had to have their own agents at so many polling stations, apparently dedicated to ensuring that “their votes are not stolen”.

Yet, it is a tragedy in more ways than one that the US has come to this. A relatively young democracy like Kenya’s needs practical examples of the kind of compromises that make democracy work. These can only come from nations with a longer experience of democratic government.

I cannot tell if any such foreigners will ever ask me this question again. But if they do, this time I will have an excellent answer ready for them. I will casually say, “Our elections are not so different from what we have recently seen in the US. It is just a matter of standard operating procedure. Votes must be protected.”

I cannot wait to see their faces.

Yet, it is a tragedy in more ways than one that the US has come to this. A relatively young democracy like Kenya’s needs practical examples of the kind of compromises that make democracy work. These can only come from nations with a longer experience of democratic government.

I believe that a direct line can be drawn from Vice President Al Gore conceding to George W Bush following the 2000 American presidential election; and Raila Odinga coming to terms with Mwai Kibaki’s second term as president in 2008, here in Kenya.

It should be recalled that the late Samuel Kivuitu, who presided over that election, said publicly that he really had no idea who the real winner was, even though he signed the documents which validated Kibaki’s swearing-in.

But for Raila Odinga, as with Al Gore before him, the matter had by then gone beyond vote counting. It all came down to setting aside their conviction that they had won and giving greater weight to what was in the interest of their country.

 

More recently we saw President Uhuru Kenyatta, despite his open and bitter resentment of the Supreme Court nullifying his first round victory in the 2017 presidential election, accepting to have the election repeated as ordered by the Supreme Court.

One question remains though: If indeed the upcoming US presidential election is judged by any partisans to have been compromised by “stolen votes”, will this lead to any serious violence?

For in the US, any skirmishes involving rival militias – however brief and however quickly subdued – would be fought with the guns which are notoriously plentiful in that country. A lot of people could be killed in a very short time.

As someone who in past years has had many and very pleasant visits to America, I am deeply reluctant to believe this. Somehow, I cannot imagine a devastating outbreak of violence in the US over a “stolen election” no matter what evidence there may be that such “theft” of votes had indeed occurred.

But then what do I really know?

In 2016 – and like so many others who naively thought they had some understanding of American politics – I had been absolutely certain that Trump could not win.