Kenya needs a robust electoral dispute resolution mechanism ahead of the August 8 general election to guarantee peaceful polls.
A report by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) urges the judiciary to build an elaborate team to resolve electoral rows.
“As a contest for political power, elections by their nature invite disputes. Effective electoral dispute resolution is therefore key to preventing electoral violence and ensuring legitimacy of the results,” said IDLO Director-General Irene Khan.
In a statement to newsrooms, she said the body would increases public confidence in the electoral system and creates an incentive for active political participation by citizens.
“In an environment marked by ethnic tensions and low public trust in political institutions, the successful management of election petitions by the judiciary was a key factor behind the relatively peaceful elections and transfer of power in Kenya in 2013,” said the report in part.
In many emerging democracies, concerns about judicial independence deter candidates from using the courts to adjudicate electoral disputes.
Report blames weak and incoherent laws and opaque systems as those that prevent the timely and fair handling of electoral complaints.
“Courts do not have the capacity, knowledge or means to effectively manage electoral disputes. Electoral cases cannot be treated in the same way as other matters that come before the judiciary because of the inherent political sensitivity, the high public interest in their outcomes, the intense bursts in which election petitions are filed, and the short time limits in which election matters must be dispensed,” reads the report.
Khan said an electoral dispute resolution system has little value if it remains inaccessible or unknown to the public.
“Electoral justice should not be restricted to elites or well-resourced petitioners but must be available to allthose who feel disenfranchised and excluded,” she said.
IDLO’s report calls for public outreach activities to reassure the electorate that the judiciary is prepared and able to manage electoral disputes fairly and transparently and, after the elections, share progress, promote transparency and counter any false perceptions of bias.
“At the end of the day, the most critical challenges are not always related to the law and the judiciary itself but derive from the attitudes and behaviour of political and other actors and institutions. Alongside electoral dispute mechanisms of the judiciary, parallel measures must be taken to strengthen the electoral administration and electoral management bodies,” said Khan.