Under a New System: Kenya's 2013 Elections

Publication Date: 
5 Mar 2013

Considered the anchor state of East Africa, Kenya plays an important role in the cultural, economic and political life of the region. At the same time, the country suffered serious and potentially destabilizing election violence during the 2007 elections—the last presidential election held in the country. Ahead of the March 4, 2013 general elections, the country focused on introducing reforms and improvements to prevent and curtail election violence, including the introduction of a new constitution, a new election commission and a new voter registration system. Michael Yard, IFES Chief of Party in Kenya, tells us how Election Day went.

A number of widespread reforms were implemented ahead of this election. In light of all these changes, how was the mood on Election Day?

The country’s collective mood was an interesting mixture of excitement, hope and uncertainty. The common theme when talking to Kenyans, especially in Nairobi, was that they were praying for peace. No one wanted a return to the violence that marked the 2007 vote, but no one was quite sure as to how the March 4 process would go. Nevertheless, Kenyans did not let fear stop them from showing up to the polls. By as early as 4:00 a.m. in many polling stations, there were already hundreds of people queued to vote. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) expects the turnout of registered voters to be over 70 percent.

How was security on Election Day?

The IEBC did a good job of liaising with their security counterparts to ensure polling stations were safe for voters. At last count, over 90,000 police had been deployed on March 4 and their presence at polling stations was felt around the country.

There were a few isolated incidents of violence on Election Day. In the early morning, there was an attack on police in the port city of Mombasa. Reports indicated that four police officers died, along with six assailants. At this point, no link has been made between that incident and the actual election, but the violence was understandably disconcerting to many. There were also a few other smaller incidents of violence that I am aware of.

With that said, I think the international community needs to provide credit to Kenyans for conducting a generally peaceful Election Day across the country. We hope that sense of calm remains throughout the counting process. 

This is the first election held under the new election commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and using the new electronic voter identification (EVID) system. How did the process go?

The electronic voter identification (EVID) system comprises what many are calling poll books or electronic poll books. Essentially, these poll books are a laptop that is loaded with the biometric data of voters in a particular polling station and is connected to a fingerprint scanner. On Election Day, there were mixed reports on their success. Some poll books did not make it to polling stations and others did not work properly. However, many poll books did work correctly and increased the transparency and credibility of the voting process. In Kenya, the paper voter register remains the sole legal voter list. The paper register produced included color photos of all voters to further deter any attempts at impersonation.

A new results transmission system was also introduced. How did the system work?

The results transmission system (RTS) is working, but many polling stations had problems reporting due to a combination of issues including distribution, training and a problem with a server configuration that was corrected early in the process. There were reports of polling stations that did not receive their phones, or got the wrong SIM card. One thing to keep in mind is that the RTS only carries provisional results. The official results, which supersede the provisional ones, are tallied and released concurrently.

When will results be available?

By law, the election commission has to certify the results within seven days of the vote. Provisional results will continue to be released as they are received. Official results will now start to be released after totals are verified by the respective IEBC intake staff.

When will the elected take office?

Although this sounds like a simple question, the answer is somewhat complicated.

The new president is sworn in on the fourteenth day after results are declared if there is no legal challenge. In case of a legal challenge, the president is sworn in seven days after the court makes a decision on the challenge.

If no candidate wins a majority of all votes cast, plus 25 percent of the votes in half the counties, this will trigger a run-off election between the two top candidates. The date of the run-off is effected by a number of factors including how long it takes for the IEBC to certify results; whether there is any challenge to the certified results; and how long it takes the Supreme Court to resolve any challenge. When all these conditions are factored in, the president could be sworn in as early as March 26 or as late as May 29.