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The Kenyan Electoral Mess — An Afterword That May Not Be the Final Word

- January 1, 2008

The other day I speculated here that the Kenyan presidential election, which was being held that day, could produce an electoral trainwreck. What I was referring to was the possibility of a “fancy” outcome, akin to what occurs in the U.S. when the popular vote margin goes one way and the Electoral College margin goes the other. The rules in play in Kenya hold open the possibilty that a candidate can carry a plurality nationwide and garner at least 25% of the votes in five of Kenya’s eight provinces — two of the three criteria for being elected — but still fail by virtue of being defeated in his run for a seat in the Parliament, which would render him ineligible. Alternatively, a candidate might fulfill the nationwide plurality criterion and win a seat in Parliament, but fall short on the 5/8 criterion — not a terribly far-fetched possibility given Kenya’s tribally-based, and therefore areally-based, politics.

Well, according to what has been certified as the “official” result, which may not be the “real” result and may not turn out to be the “final” result, the “fancy” outcomes that I mentioned didn’t occur. What did occur was a trainwreck nonetheless that has produced widespread protests from within Kenya (including mass demonstrations and reports of more than 100 deaths so far) and from around the world. In this instance, the trainwreck is of the good old-fashioned variety, centered on allegations of massive irregularities, including vote-buying and rigged vote totals. These tried-and-true institutions of democratic governance proved sufficient (though barely so) to throw the election to the incumbent, confounding the pollsters’ predictions. I didn’t mention this regrettable but mundane scenario in my earlier posting precisely because it seemed so thoroughly expectable that it hardly merited mention. (Corruption on election day: Stop the presses!) The “fancy” scenario, on the other hand, seemed novel enough to to warrant some brief commentary.

In the United States, the reaction is one of shock and awe. We are shocked, shocked, that the outcome of a presidential election could be tainted by such nefarious practices. And we are awed by the efficiency of an electoral system that enabled the in-party to get itself officially declared the winner within hours after the polls had closed, without putting the national through a lengthy and thoroughly unnecessary wait to see how it had all come out.