Covid-19 impact likely to dampen polls enthusiasm

Monday, August 9th, 2021 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe at a past briefing. He has cautioned Kenyans not to drop their guard on Covid rules. Photo/PD/File

With the clock ticking fast towards  the 2022 General Election - and, what is shaping up as a tight contest between the main protagonists - the Coronavirus pandemic could dampen the enthusiasm associated with the polls. 

Even as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) moves into top gear in the preparation  and putting in place the logistics for the over 20 million registered voters, the disease is not showing any signs of dissipating. 

 Across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has placed profound strain in electoral democracy.

Many elections have been postponed, while others have been held with adaptation.

Last week, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe cautioned Kenyans against dropping their guard saying that the new strain was spreading fast and more lethal. 

“We continue to implore all Kenyans, including those who have received their Covid-19 vaccines, not to let their guard down,” Kagwe said.

Public restrictions

“If you fall sick today, you will not get a hospital bed. I am not scaring you, I am telling you the reality,” he said in a televised address where he announced new public restrictions in a bid to tame the spread of the virus. 

Medics have raised fears that campaigns for 2022 elections may not only involve spreading political ideas by the main players, but also the Covid-19 virus.

In a country where politicians are known for their impunity over any existing law, the situation could get out of hand in Kenya as politicians and their supporters are likely to throw caution to the wind.

Apart from extending the 10pm-4am curfew, the government also banned all public gatherings countrywide.

“We will not allow any public gatherings to take place anywhere. Police will strictly enforce this order,” Kagwe said.

The restriction on public rallies is the spanner in the works as far as the 2022 General Election is concerned, and it remains to be seen how politicians will  conduct their campaigns without rallies.

Other measures that the government has put in place include the requirement for people to keep social distance while in public spaces and wearing of face masks.

Going by recent by-elections, IEBC has struggled to enforce these measures especially the need for voters to keep social distance during campaigns and on the actual voting day.

The presence of thousands of people at the polling stations is going to be a nightmare for the authorities. 

Kenya’s electoral system has become synonymous with long queues with some voters waking up as early as 4am to beat the long queues.

Last year, IEBC was forced to postpone six by-elections in various parts of the country including Msambweni until the infections subsided.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said that the electoral body was developing new electoral protocols in line with the Ministry of Health guidelines to curb the spread of Coronavirus during elections. 

“The goal is to address the practical and legal questions around running elections while also decreasing the potential risk of spreading the virus,” said Chebukati. 

Major outbreak

With just a year to the polls,  Kenya could be looking at some of the countries that have successfully conducted their elections in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic.

In 22 out of the 51 countries globally, that held their elections in the thick of the pandemic, the governments were forced to impose rules that limited some freedom of assembly during the electioneering period to contain the spread of the virus.

Willis Akhwale-the chairman of National Covid-19 Vaccines Taskforce says Kenya should not be an exception to other governments worldwide that limited traditional campaigning as part of the broader Covid-19 measures.

“The government must either ban or reduce the number of people who can attend campaign events, otherwise we could be in for a major outbreak of Covid-19 in the country,” Akhwale warns.

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