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The Six Types of Elections in Kenya and When they Happen

The Types of Elections in Kenya and When they Occur

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 a 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 about 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.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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 three are the Recall Elections, the Runoff Election and Primary Elections.

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:

General elections take place when the term of parliament expires after five years.

2. By-elections

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, including Women Representatives) and the Ward Representatives (MCAs). They usually occur when the incumbent:

  • dies,
  • 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 the Constitution of Kenya (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 imprisonment for more than six months.

In the old Constitution, by-elections also took place when parliament nominated an MP to become the speaker.

3. Referenda

Referenda, or the ballot question, is 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).

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:

  • Members of the National Assembly;
  • Women Representatives;
  • Members of the Senate;
  • Ward Representatives, also known as Members of the County Assembly (MCAs)

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 presidential 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 choose to support either candidate if their candidate gets does not make it 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.

6. Primary Elections

Also known as party primaries in Kenya, these elections take place at the political party level. Their purpose is for identifying aspiring candidates to stand for election in every electoral area. The candidates to be nominated for these positions must be members of the respective political party.

The “party primary” means the process through which a political party elects or selects its candidates for an election. In Kenya, only validly registered political party members vote for the candidates that the political party will nominate for the various elective positions.

Primary elections usually take place just before a general election.

A party primary should be conducted in accordance with the nomination rules and procedures of the party. The candidate who obtains the highest number of votes should be declared the party nominee for the position.

If only one aspiring candidate applies to be nominated in any elective position, no party primary should be conducted.

Upon conclusion of the party primary, the authorized party officials should certify the list of nominees and submit it to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The list of nominees cannot be altered after the party submits it to the Commission.

Other articles to read

See this list of other related articles to check out:

  1. Qualifications for election as the President (and Deputy President).
  2. Qualifications for election as a Member of the National Assembly.
  3. Qualifications for election as a Member of the Senate.
  4. Qualifications for election as a Woman County Representative in Kenya.
  5. Qualifications for election as a County Governor (and a Deputy Governor).
  6. Qualifications for election as a Member of the County Assembly (MCA).

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