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A woman holding a small Kenyan flag
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/B. Curtis

Kenyan politicians 'need to be prepared to lose'

Aarni Kuoppamäki
August 2, 2017

As Kenya gears up for elections next week, the Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observer Mission, Marietje Schaake, says politicians need to be prepared to lose 'as part of a democratic process.'


DW: As chief observer of the European Union to the Kenyan elections, how do you see the campaign and election process?

Marietje Schaake: We are in Kenya with a large European Union delegation with 15 longterm observer teams in many parts of Kenya. We're looking at campaign activity, the preparedness of the election commission IEBC. We're talking to the security forces to see whether they are prepared, but [we're] also careful not to be overbearing, which could be considered intimidating by Kenyans, as they get ready to cast their votes on August 8. All in all, we're still very much looking at events as they unfold.

The atmosphere in Kenya is heated ahead of the elections. Both sides say they will win. And both sides accuse their opponents of trying to take away that victory by illicit means. How does that affect the situation?

Pre-election murder sparks outrage in Kenya

Every campaign gets people excited. We see that in Europe as well. But there will be people who are not going to win the seats that they are now campaigning for. And that is a normal part of a democratic process as well.

So I think as people are campaigning to win, it is also important that people are prepared to lose and to graciously congratulate their opponents. Of course, campaigns can heat things up, but it's important that there is also leadership and expectation management by the different political candidates to make sure that people can cast their votes in elections that are going to be peaceful, credible and transparent.

I'm convinced this is what the vast majority of Kenyans want.

There has been lots of talk about possible attempts to manipulate the elections. An independent auditor said there might still be as many as one million dead people on the voters' register. The opposition has complained about the printing of too many ballot papers. And the government has criticized the opposition for setting up their own tallying center, which would enable them to announce election results before the authorities do and possibly divide the country. With all this going on - how do you rate the credibility of the elections?

We're still in the middle of looking at all the details of the preparations for these elections. All the comments and assessments that you have cited I have heard too. But we look at every comment that is made and every point that is raised to us as the observer mission with a critical eye. And we assess whether there is validity in these points or not. The preliminary statement of the EU election observation mission can be expected a couple of days after the election. The final report, which is very elaborate and has many recommendations for the future as well, can be expected a couple of months after the election.

So far, have you found any reason for concern?

Of course the recent death of Christopher Msando, who was responsible for the electoral commission's information, communication and technology, is a matter of great concern so close to the election. It is, of course, of great concern that all election officials should be able to do their work safely. So yes, we have seen some concerning developments, and we have looked at those as part of our broad mission that is impartial and independent and has a very clear mandate.

Marietje Schaake (photo: B. Belloni)
Losing in elections is part of the democratic process, says SchaakeImage: B. Belloni

Christopher Msando is one of several people killed in the run-up to the elections. Others have been injured. After the 2007 election, Kenya erupted into violence which left more than a thousand people dead. What could be done to avoid an escalation after the elections this year?

Political candidates, but also Kenyans themselves, must grant each other the right to vote peacefully. And I do think that those with more responsibility have a special role to play, so I've called on political candidates to explicitly, and before the elections, commit to the procedures and the courts that are there to be followed, should there be any reason for them to challenge the outcome of the elections or any of the proceedings ahead of them.

I think it is also important that candidates, as they work hard and campaign hard to win, also prepare their followers, fans and constituents for the possibility of losing. It is a very normal part of democratic elections to lose. In fact, many candidates that are standing for office in these Kenyan elections will not win. That is simply the way it is, if you look at the amount of candidates and the amount of seats that are up for election. 

Marietje Schaake is the Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observer Mission to the Kenyan elections and a Dutch member of the European Parliament. 

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