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The Six Types of Elections in Kenya

  • Author Gĩthĩnji
  • Updated on:

There are various types of elections in Kenya. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is the Constitutional body mandated with conducting and managing all the types of elections in Kenya.

Article 81 of the Constitution states the general principles of the electoral system in Kenya. The electoral system shall comply with the following principles–

  • freedom of citizens to exercise their political rights under Article 38 of the Constitution;
  • not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender;
  • fair representation of persons with disabilities;
  • universal suffrage based on the aspiration for fair representation and equality of vote; and
  • free and fair elections, which are–
    • by secret ballot;
    • free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption;
    • conducted by an independent body;
    • transparent; and
    • administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable manner.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) underpins the importance of elections in democracy.

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
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The types of elections in Kenya

The three major types of elections in Kenya are the General Elections, By-Elections, and Referenda. 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 elections, parliamentary elections, 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.

General elections can also happen before the five-year term ends under certain circumstances, such as in Article 261 (7) of the Constitution.

According to this legislation, the Chief Justice can advise the president to dissolve parliament, and the president must heed this advice.

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).

Reasons for a by-election in Kenya

The reasons for a by-election in Kenya are 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.

Reasons for a referendum in Kenya

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 of Kenya).

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 Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission 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).

Where a member is to be recalled, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall frame the question to be determined at the recall election.

The question above shall be framed in such a way as to require the answer “yes” or the answer “no”.

The Commission shall assign a symbol for each answer to the recall question.

The voting at a recall election shall be by secret ballot.

A recall election shall be decided by a simple majority of the voters voting in the recall election.

Where a recall election results in the removal of a member, the Commission shall conduct a by-election in the affected electoral unit (County, Constituency or Ward).

A member who has been recalled is not prohibited to run in the by-election conducted in the electoral unit affected by the recall.

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 all the 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 shall 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 does not make it after 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 shall be conducted in accordance with the nomination rules and procedures of the party. The candidate who obtains the highest number of votes shall be declared the party nominee for the position.

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

Upon conclusion of the party primary, the authorised party officials shall 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.

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