There are various types of elections in Kenya. According to the handbook on provisions on governance structure and elections in the constitution of Kenya (by Uraia and IED), elections are a reflection of democratic practice. Adult citizens choose who they want to lead them and discard those they do not want.
Conduct of elections is in accordance with electoral laws. Kenyans have constitutional rights to participate in elections as voters or candidates for elective positions. The elections should be periodical, peaceful, credible, free, and fair to serve their purposes.
The handbook says elections serve a key function as a mechanism of facilitating political accountability. Leaders seek fresh mandate from voters and the latter judge them based on their past performance. Their manifesto pledges carry their development policy.
When Kenyans do not participate in elections or participate in small numbers, it questions the legitimacy of the winning candidate. It raises serious questions on the enthusiasm of Kenyans towards local politics and the leaders they elect.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) underpins the importance of elections in democracy as follows:
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governance; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is the Constitutional body mandated with conducting and managing all the types of elections in Kenya.
The types of elections in Kenya
There are three major types of elections in Kenya: General Elections, By-Elections, and Referenda (or referendum in singular). The other two are the Recall Elections and the Runoff election.
1. General elections
They are the first among the major types of elections in Kenya. They comprise of the presidential, parliamentary, and county elections. Validly registered voters vote for six positions on the same day. The voters elect the following:
- the President (and his deputy)
- Parliamentary members (Senate and National Assembly, including Women Representatives); and
- County officials (Governors, Deputy Governors, and Ward Representatives).
General elections take place when the term of parliament expires after five years.
By-elections are the second among the major types of elections in Kenya. You can also refer to them as special elections. They take place within the term of parliament. That is, between one general election and the next. The by-elections are elections that occur regularly.
By-elections affect the Members of Parliament (Senate and National Assembly) and the Ward Representatives (MCAs). They usually occur when the incumbent:
- Resigns in writing addressed to the speaker,
- is absent from eight consecutive assembly sittings without written permission from the speaker and a satisfactory explanation for the absence,
- is removed from office in accordance with Article 80 of CoK (violation of Chapter 6 on leadership and integrity),
- as a member of a political party, the member resigns from the party or deemed to have resigned from the party or as an independent candidate, the member joins a political party,
- is disqualified on elections grounds specified in Article 193 (2) (loss of seat through election petition, the election being invalidated by the High Court or Supreme Court due to factors such as irregularities),
- is declared to be of unsound mind,
- becomes bankrupt,
- is recalled,
- is convicted to an imprisonment for more than six months.
In the old Constitution, by-elections also took place when parliament selected an MP to become the speaker.
Referenda, or the ballot question, are a form of direct democracy. In referenda, people have direct say in matters of public concern.
The concerned parties present the people with an issue or proposal. The people have to accept or reject with a majority through the ballot.
Often, the referenda involve a ‘yes or no’ question. Referenda in Kenya often address issues of amendments to the Constitution.
Issues that require a referendum in Kenya include:
- the change of presidential term and Article 10 on values and principles of governance;
- Chapter 4 on the Bill of Rights;
- objectives, principles and structure of devolved government.
- (See Articles 255, 256 & 257 of the Constitution).
In total, Kenya has held 11 General Elections (up to 2016) and 2 referenda in 2005 and 2010.
4. Recall Elections
Recall elections are a special type of elections under Article 104 of the Constitution. They take place when the electorate is dissatisfied with their elected representatives. People present a petition to the IEBC when they want to recall their elected representatives.
The elected representatives affected by recall elections are:
- MPs representing Constituencies
- Women Representatives
- Ward Representatives, also known as Members of the County Assembly (MCAs)
See how to recall a Member of Parliament in Kenya to understand how recall elections take place.
5. Runoff Election
Runoff election takes place when no presidential candidate:
- attains the 50 per cent plus 1 vote (50%+1) of the total valid votes cast (more than half);
- receives more than 25 per cent of valid votes cast in at least half of the 47 counties.
It is a two-round system that voters use to elect a single winner. Only two candidates from the first round of the elections continue to the second round. These two candidates should have the most of the total valid votes cast in the first round.
In the second round, the candidate who garners the most votes wins. Voters can change the candidate of their choice if their candidate gets eliminated in the first round. The voters can also choose a different candidate in the second round if the change their minds about their present candidate.