In 2020, as the world shut down to insulate against COVID-19, a disturbing side effect of the pandemic began quietly taking root in some corners of the world: democratic backsliding and growing autocracies.
Fortunately, While the news worries freedom lovers everywhere, democracy seem to rebound since some governments have lifted their health restrictions. While some nations have seen a significant deterioration of freedoms during the past 18 months, the pandemic’s direct impact on the vitality of democracy itself has so far been limited. While some may wonder if advocates exaggerate the degree to which COVID-19 restrictions have eroded democracy, V-Dem’s report shows that even the smallest declines in freedom are troublesome, because most autocracies develop in a predictable manner—beginning with restrictions on media, academic freedom and civil society. Then governments promote polarization among their own citizens with disinformation campaigns via social media before moving on to blatant disrespect and intolerance for opposing political views. And that’s when more visible attacks on democracy become apparent, which makes less inconspicuous activities, like the government’s attitude towards journalists, reliable indicators of democratic health.
Another example is from the global south nations like Kenya,
This is where the president in collaboration with the opposition leader the so-called brothers were able to sponge of the national assembly at both parliament and senate for those who din’t tore the line.
Nevertheless, Democratic elections provide an opportunity for citizens to put in place the governments and representatives of their choice. The ultimate hope for citizens in this process is that the representatives elected propagate laws and policies to alleviate their situation. This makes elections particularly important for traditionally marginalized groups, such as persons with disabilities.
As disability sausage media we argue that democracy doesn’t work without full and effective citizen engagement. This is to say public participation has been badly compromised by malign influence and disinformation—mostly from foreign regimes such as Russia and China. Evidence shows people stepping out all over the place. Coupled with repressive governments cracking down in, frankly, new and sophisticated, and dangerous ways.
Additionally, With the weakening of democracy, corruption is also on the rise, working hand in hand, feeding on weakened institutions, and fundamentally unjust systems of power.
While one of the key tenets of democratic elections is equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be elected, Kenyans with disabilities continue to be excluded from this process.
Moreover, the right to political participation for persons with disabilities is protected in regional and international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that Kenya is a signatory to, as well as the Kenyan constitution. This notwithstanding, the participation of persons with disabilities in the Kenyan electoral processes, both as voters, officials and candidates, has indeed been on the decline. The number of representatives vying for elected office who openly identified as a person with a disability declined during the 2017 general election, in comparison to the 2013 elections. Currently, several county assemblies have no members with disabilities, despite the clear provision for disability quotas in the constitution. This situation has been attributed to a number of factors including stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities, inaccessibility of electoral processes and materials, undemocratic party processes, and electoral violence, among others.
Persons with disabilities, Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) independent institutions like the Kenya national human rights commission and civil societies, can play a key role in changing the current situation through concerted advocacy initiatives to mitigate the challenges identified above. For persons with disabilities and their organizations to effectively undertake this kind of advocacy, collection of information on the participation of persons with disabilities through the process of election observation is an important tool.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
With Kenya being a signatory to the CRPD, the government is obligated to ensure the full participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life on an equal basis with others including the right and opportunity to vote and be elected. The government is obligated to take measures including; i) Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use; ii) Protecting right to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation, to stand for elections and to effectively hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government; iii) Facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies; iv) Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice.
The Constitution of Kenya
One of the principles of Kenya's electoral system is fair representation of persons with disabilities. The constitution provides for progressive implementation of the principle that at least five percent of the members of the public in elective and appointive bodies are persons with disabilities. It further provides for affirmative action quotas for persons with disabilities in the national assembly, senate and county assemblies. The constitution obligates the state to develop laws to promote representation of marginalized groups including persons with disabilities, in elective bodies.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC or the Commission) is required to put in place appropriate infrastructure including special voting booths, and have in each polling station such officers as the Commission considers necessary to facilitate voting. Out of the eight candidates for marginalized groups party lists to county assemblies, at least two of them shall be persons with disabilities. Further, party lists shall prioritize persons with disabilities, youth, and any other candidate representing marginalized groups.
Political Parties Act
The Political Parties Act requires: I) party membership to reflect regional and ethnic diversity, gender balance and representation of minorities and marginalized groups; ii) composition of governing bodies to reflect regional and ethnic diversity, gender balance and representation of minorities and marginalized groups; iii) parties to respect the right of all persons to participate in the political process including youth, minorities and marginalized groups; iv) political parties funding – 30% to go towards promoting the participation of marginalized groups.
Among the key actors in our democratic processes, political parties are often put forward as one of the most important, though decreasing trust and membership figures are often portrayed as major concerns. In numerous county and ward, however, party membership figures have been falling since the 2000, and anti-establishment movements have already played a significant role in many counties and ward level for several years. What is the role of political parties in Kenyan elections and political processes today and in the future, and what impact does this have on our democracies? What can be done to strengthen the position of political parties in the democratic dialogue (or are there other forms of entities that can take over the role of political parties)?
All in all, Democracy is not simply about a process or an election. It’s a culture that has to be developed [and] re-energized by the citizens of every generation … This is the challenge of our time. We observe, there are authoritarian opportunists who want to prey on those who are frustrated, or concerned about the course of democracy. And they’re willing to get out there and use our moments of weakness to gain advantage. We can’t let that happen.
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The views expressed here are for the author and do not represent any agency or organization.
Mugambi Paul is a public policy, diversity, inclusion and sustainability expert.
Australian Chief Minister Award winner
“Excellence of making inclusion happen”