Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Courting Ambivalence in Politics and the Elections

There is simmering ambivalence among many Kenyans over the monkey business that was party nominations, the mayhem it sparked in various parts of the country evoking bitter memories of the 2007/08 post election violence, and the predictable political fallout that followed. Party nominations have always been a passage of great danger for politicians and political parties alike but with all the electoral reforms that have been enacted, Kenyans somehow expected party nominations to be conducted with utmost care and decorum; but that was not to be. The nominations were in words of one syllable shambolic. Certainly, logistical challenges were partly to blame and that is easy to fix but what was also clear and which is a matter of grave concern, was that politicians and their supporters flatly refused to give the nominations exercise the respect it deserves leading to the fracas that were witnessed in several parts of the country.

The crux of the matter in party nominations is the inconvenient fact that nominations give voters a chance to nominate their favourite or preferred candidate and this affords the party the opportunity to pick a candidate who is popular with the people and who therefore is likely to win come the election, but the voters’ choices can be in conflict with that of party insiders who have their own favourites and some important –others  dubious– considerations to make in determining who will be on their ticket. The solution to the party nominations time bomb is however not necessarily in having tighter regulations as some think but rather in having preset nominations rules and the elimination of the discretionary powers that party election boards have.

Another issue that continues to be a rich source of ambivalence among the population as we head towards the general election is opinion polling. To be sure, opinion polling is relatively new in Kenyan politics but the science informing opinion polling has been in existence for decades now and opinion polls are extremely useful in the democratic process.

In a democratic society, the citizenry is the source of political power. Elected officials represent the people and not themselves and the government is not a law unto itself. Government policy should reflect people’s wishes. There has to be a way therefore of establishing public views and desires and modern, scientific opinion polling is a proven method of monitoring public desires and views on anything and everything conceivable.

V. O. Key Jr. a leading political scientist of his time, once quipped that “to speak with precision of public opinion is a task not unlike coming to grips with the Holy Ghost.” People’s opinions are as changeable as weather and they are as diverse as the heterogeneity of the population. Nevertheless, on the basis of between one and two thousand interviews, pollsters are able to make startling accurate claims on the views of the rest of the population. The key however is to faithfully employ scientific sampling techniques but even then no sample is a perfectly accurate reflection of the entire population and so pollsters have to factor sampling error in their analysis which is why the final results are qualified by a margin of error which is arrived at scientifically.

Despite its universal validity and usefulness, opinion polling has received a hostile reception in Kenya. Opinion polling has been systematically attacked and pollsters are denigrated with reckless abandon. Despite their accuracy in the past, politicians continue to dismiss poll results wholesale and, increasingly, it has become expedient for scholars to join the bandwagon of those discredit them. Truth be told, those politicians and scholars dismissing poll results are charlatans who are merely preying on the ignorance of Kenyans. Disconcertingly, it is the likes of Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua who are leading the onslaught on opinion polls and pollsters and quite honestly, nothing is more disingenuous of them. It is no wonder that those who are polling poorly are opinion polls’ fiercest critics.

But don’t be fooled, the ruling elite and especially those who are dismissive of poll results fully appreciate the science underpinning opinion polls and its value to our fledgling democracy. Thinking of such characters, I am reminded of the words of Jesus Christ in John 3: 19-20, “that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

Human behaviour is purposive and not as random and chaotic as it often seems.  The real motives behind those politicians castigating opinion polls are anybody guess but what is clear is that they much prefer to continue receiving blind support while their unsuspecting financiers continue to grope in the dark. What however is of grave concern is that these dishonest poll castigators are undermining the democratic process by courting unnecessary ambivalence over opinion polls but the public should not be hoodwinked.

Finally, the lists of party nominees to Parliament and the Senate released early this week have provoked howls of outrage exacerbating ambivalence among the population. The seats which are reserved for special groups like marginalised groups and the disabled were filled with cronies and, lo and behold, Musalia Mudavadi, the Amani coalition presidential candidate and his running mate Jeremiah Kioni, had their names in their party list. God help us!

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