Daily Archives: March 13, 2013

Greenland (Denmark) 2013

Parliamentary elections were held in Greenland on March 12, 2013. All 31 members of Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut/Landsting), elected for four year terms by proportional representation were up for reelection. Greenland is a constituent country within Denmark. It was granted home rule in 1979, and was granted extensive autonomy and self-rule in 2009 following a referendum in 2008. Denmark retains control of foreign affairs, national defense, the police force, the judiciary and monetary policy (Denmark provides a block grant which still accounts for over half of public spending by the regional government). Greenlandic is now the sole official language, and the regional government has full control over the island’s rich subsoil resources. Despite being part of Denmark, Greenland is not part of the EU – it withdrew from the EEC in 1985.

The vast majority (85-88%) of Greenland’s population are Inuits, who speak Greenlandic, an Eskimo-Aleut language. The remaining 12% or so are European Danish immigrants. Huge swathes of Greenland are covered by a vast ice sheet, although climate change is slowly reducing the size of the ice sheet. All settlements are concentrated along the ice-free coast, and almost all of these settlements are located along the western coast. Most of remote northeastern Greenland is unincorporated, forming the Northeast Greenland National Park.

Greenland was colonized by Denmark beginning in the 1700s, and was ruled by Danish colonial administrators until 1953 (it was occupied by the US during World War II). During this time, Danish was the language of the colonial administrators and a small local elite (Danes born in Greenland or assimilated Inuits), while Greenlandic remained widely used in small Inuit hamlets and was taught in schools and used in churches. After Greenland was integrated into Denmark as a county in 1953, a modernization campaign was launched resulting in major migration, often only semi-voluntary, from hamlets to larger urban centres. The government also promoted the Danish language, pushing an aggressive ‘danishification’ campaign which saw Danish rather than Greenlandic taught in schools. Greenland finally gained home rule in 1973. The new regional government reversed the linguistic policies, instead driving a Greenlandization/inuitization campaign which replaced Danish with Greenlandic in schools. In 1994, Danish was relegated to a foreign language in all schools outside the capital, Nuuk, which has a large Danish minority.

Most Greenlanders speak both Greenlandic and Danish, some Inuits even speak only Greenlandic. Nevertheless, Danish is still widely used in business and administration and it remains associated with the upper social strata in local society. Unilingual Greenlandic speakers are often at the lowest level, with poor education and either unemployed or with a low-paying job. Bilinguals and unilingual Danes tend to form the business, political, social and cultural elites. The local population faces challenges such as low education, a lack of opportunities, low wages, unemployment and crime.

Greenland’s natural governing party between 1979 and 2009 was Siumut (Forward), a left-wing social democratic party which had led the charge for home rule in the 1970s. Being in government so long, it was accussed of corruption and nepotism in administration. Such issues contributed to its defeat in the 2009 election, won by Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community/Community of the People), a socialist and separatist which was founded in 1976. The IA’s leader, Kuupik Kleist, became Prime Minister.

The Democrats (Demokraatit) and Atassut (Feeling of Community) both lost heavily in the 2009 election, losing about 10% of the vote apiece from the 2005 elections. The social liberal Democrats are a predominantly Danish party which oppose independence, most of its leaders are Danes but it does not receive homogeneous support from Danish expats in Greenland. It won 16% in 2002 and then placed second, with 22.8% in 2005, but its support fell to 12.7%. Atassut, a right-wing and agrarian party which is similarly opposed to independence, used to be the main centre-right rival to Siumut in the 1980s, winning over 40% of the vote. But since the 1990s the party has been in free fall, having seen its support shrink from 30% in 1991-1995 to barely 11% and 3 seats in 2009. The smaller Kattusseqatigiit (Association of Candidates, K) has been represented in Parliament since 1995, peaking at 4 seats in 1999 and one seat since then. It is primarily a personalist party led by Anthon Frederiksen, the former mayor of Ilulissat. IA formed a coalition with the Democrats and K after the last election.

Greenland has rich and, to a certain extent, untapped mineral riches – both onshore and offshore. Oil companies have already spent billions exploring for large reserves of offshore oil. On land, mining companies are clamoring for access to gold and iron ore deposits; but also large and unexploited ‘rare earth’ elements which are key ingredients in modern smartphones or weapons. The IA government has stuck to its zero-tolerance policy on uranium mining, which bans the mining or sell of radioactive resources such as uranium. For a remote and sparsely populated country economically dependent on fishing and its former colonial master, Greenland is now swept up by the winds of change as it finds itself at the heart of a mineral boom with major geopolitical ramifications. Foreign mining companies, including giants such as Alcoa, London Mining PLC, are battling for mining concessions. China has taken a particular interest in Greenland, especially in its rare earth reserves. Although China currently has 90% of the world’s rare earth elements, they will not be able to keep up with Chinese, let alone global, demand in the long-term. The EU and Denmark are concerned by China’s efforts to gain a foothold in Greenland’s economy and the Arctic, and have pressured – unsuccessfully – the Greenlandic government to block Chinese access to rare earth elements, some of which are currently explored by an Australian-based mining company.

The Greenlandic Parliament approved the so-called ‘big-scale law’ on mining a few weeks ago. The law makes it easier and cheaper for foreign mining companies to start large projects in Greenland. Under the new law, any project worth over 5 billion Danish kroner would require a license from the regional government and would need to undertake an environmental and social impact inquiry. The most controversial aspect of the new law is that it allows foreign companies to contract cheaper foreign workers. The law requires that the foreign workers be paid at the local minimum wage and would be entitled to local labour rights (right to strike, collective bargaining), but because the law also allows employers to deduct costs such as insurance and food from their wages, they would likely end up being paid less than local workers. That part of the law, however, is in limbo as it will require approval from the Danish Parliament, which retains control over immigration policy. Proponents of the law argue that the law and the new mineral boom will significantly reduce Greenland’s dependence on Danish grants and diversify the country’s economy. Opponents are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of mining development and control by foreign mining giants, but also criticize the speed at which the law was pushed through. The ‘importation’ of 500-700 foreign workers in a country of 57,000 has also raised concerns amongst the local population.

Turnout was 74.2%, up 2.9% since 2009.

Siumut (S) 42.8% (+16.3%) winning 14 seats (+5)
Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) 34.4% (-9.3%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Atassut (A) 8.1% (-2.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Partii Inuit (PI) 6.4% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Democrats (D) 6.2% (-6.5%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Association of Candidates (K) 1.1% (-2.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 0% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)


Four years after being kicked out of office in monumental fashion, Siumut, led by Aleqa Hammond, roared back to power in Greenland. The party increased its vote share by 16%, taking 43% of the vote and 14 seats while the incumbent IA won only 34%, down over 9 points, and 11 seats. The governing IA-D-K coalition also lots its majority, with both of its coalition partners losing votes and seats.

Mining and the prospect of foreign workers were major issues in this elections and they contributed to Siumut’s victory. Most politicians agree on the exploration of mineral resources, but the big-scale law has stirred controversy. Siumut argued that there was too much secrecy about the various mining projects and found the government too eager to push through the law and too soft on foreign companies. Siumut ran on a populist platform which promised to demand more royalties on resources and forcing tougher rules on potential foreign investors. It also tapped into concerns that the new law was giving too much powers to foreign companies.

Inuit fishermen and seal hunters, the traditional backbone of the old economy, feel increasingly marginalized and forgotten with all these new developments. They oppose new fishing quotas, poor market access for seal skins and restrictions over harpoon guns for whale hunting. IA was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take heed of their concerns; while Siumut promised that it would work to make economic development ‘fairer’ for all, city dwellers and villagers alike. Siumut, however, does not share IA’s steadfast opposition to uranium mining and has said that it would be open to allowing uranium mining if the ore contains a maximum 0.1% uranium oxide..

Cultural concerns also played a role in the vote. The potential ‘massive’ influx of foreign, predominantly Chinese, workers as part of new contracts (including a concession to London Mining PLC which would supply iron ore to China and employ Chinese foreign workers). In a small and largely ethnically homogeneous country, the prospect of 500-700 cheap foreign workers moving in – even on a temporary basis – scared many, who feared that they will take jobs away from locals and undermine Greenland’s ancient hunting and fishing tradition.

IA likely lost some votes to a new party, Partii Inuit, a very left-wing and separatist party formed recently by IA dissidents. The Inuit Party were the most vocal in their opposition to the big-scale law, calling for a referendum on the issue.

On the map, Siumut won every ‘city’ (the second level divisions behind the 3 municipalities) with the exception of Aasiaat (the fifth largest city), Illoqqortoormiut on the east coast (where Atassut won) and Nuuk (the largest city and capital). Siumut swept every other part of the country, likely benefiting from fishermen and hunters’ opposition to the big-scale law. Interestingly, IA did not lose as much in Nuuk – it won first place by a mile and its vote only fell by 5%. The capital city is booming and rapidly changing, benefiting from the mineral boom. Perhaps urban voters in Greenland’s largest city (over 15,000 people) were more favourable to the incumbent government’s mining policies, which has brought them tangible benefits?

Northeastern Greenland, in blue on the map, is covered by the world’s largest national park and has no permanent inhabitants. Unfortunately, polar bears and seals can’t vote. The small blue dot on the northwestern coast is Thule Air Base, a US Air Force base.

Greenland is changing extremely rapidly now, and its economy and society will likely be transformed by the mineral boom. The new status in 2009 brought the island ever closer to full independence, and many have argued that the mining boom will allow Greenland to become more autonomous from Denmark and move towards full independence. Yet, the transition to either full political independence or economic diversification is problematic. The current mining boom could allow Greenland to become a functioning independent state, but many Greenlanders are asking – at what price? There is much reluctance to sacrifice traditions or the old economy in favour of sovereignty, and many fear that Greenland could be exchanging Danish rule for rule by the special interests.

Malta 2013

Legislative elections were held in Malta on March 9, 2013. All seats in Malta’s unicameral legislature, the House of Representatives (Kamra tad-Deputati) were up for reelection. The House consists of at least 65 members elected by single transferable vote (STV) in 13 constituencies which return five members each. However, the STV system is modified to ensure that the party which wins the most votes also receives the most seats. In the last election, for example, the party which placed second in the popular vote actually won more seats than the party which won the election, so four additional seats were given to the first-placed party to ensure that it also had the most seats. A 2007 amendment added another modification to the STV system, to ensure proportionality is respected in the case that a party wins an absolute majority of votes and seats. The amendments award additional seats to the second-placed party if their seat count is disproportionate to their popular vote result.

Although Malta uses STV, it has a very rigid two-party system since 1971. Partisanship is very high in Malta and voters remain impressively loyal to their party. As a result, Maltese elections tend to have some of the highest turnout levels in the world (outside countries with mandatory voting): turnout was 93% in the last general election (and that was the lowest since 1971!). Elections are always closely fought between the two major parties; the 2008 election was won by about 1000 votes out of nearly 300,000 votes, and the losing party rarely wins less than 47% of the vote.

The two dominant parties of Maltese politics are the governing Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista, PN) and the opposition Maltese Labour Party (Partit Laburista, MLP/PL). Both parties were founded when Malta was still under British rule.

The PN was originally founded in 1880 and adopted its current name in 1926. The PN was founded by Maltese Italians who opposed Britain’s efforts to Anglicize the educational and judicial system; at the time the PN was founded, Italian was widely spoken on the island and was the language of the local Maltese elite. After Malta was granted responsible government in 1921, the PN emerged victorious in the 1921, 1924 and 1927 elections. At this time, the PN represented the pro-Italian (often pro-fascist) faction in Maltese colonial politics; it was also closely tied to and supported by the Roman Catholic Church, which was (and to a degree still is) extremely powerful in Malta, a very religious and conservative country. The British, fearing the pro-Italian and pro-fascist sympathies of the Maltese elites and the PN, stepped in and suspended self-rule in 1933. Responsible government was restored only in 1947.

The Labour Party was founded in 1921, closely tied to the General Workers Union (GWU). The party was the junior party in a progressive ‘Compact’ government with the stridently pro-British Constitutional Party between 1927 and 1932, a government marked by a bitter dispute with the Catholic Church which resulted in the Church issuing an interdict against both parties. The MLP became dominant only in the post-war era, emerging with a large majority in the 1947 election just as the PN was still licking its wounds from the damage the war had inflicted on it. However, the MLP – led by Prime Minister Paul Boffa – went through a major split in 1950, with Boffa leaving the MLP after a dispute with his Deputy Prime Minister, the fiery Dom Mintoff. In these conditions, the PN returned to power in 1950 and was reelected by tiny margins in 1951 and 1953.

Dom Mintoff’s Labour Party won the 1955 elections on a platform of ‘integration’ into the United Kingdom, whereby Malta would be granted a devolved status similar to that of the United Kingdom but elect MPs to Westminster and have access to economic aid and social benefits. The United Kingdom was originally open to the idea, but it either soured on it or lost interest as the process dragged on. Although Maltese voters actually endorsed integration in a 1956 referendum, a Nationalist boycott and low turnout (59%) rendered the result inconclusive. Now, faced with opposition from London, the PN and the Church, Mintoff changed course and swore to fight for Malta’s full independence and neutrality. Following dismissals at the Admiralty dockyards, Mintoff and the GWU’s power base, Mintoff resigned in 1958 and called for protests. Britain responded by suspending self-rule again, restoring it in 1962.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to Mintoff and Labour – the party was interdicted between 1961 and 1964 and reading or selling party newspapers was deemed a mortal sin – allowed the PN to win the 1962 and 1966 elections. During this period, Malta signed a military agreement with Britain and became a NATO base. In 1964, the PN negotiated independence for Malta – as a member of the Commonwealth retaining the Queen as head of state and a British Governor General. Despite formal independence, British influence remained pervasive in banking, communications, the military and government.

Having patched up ties – for the time being – with the Catholic Church, Mintoff returned to power in 1971 with a bare one-seat edge over the PN (28 vs 27 seats). Mintoff was a fiery, pugnacious and strong-willed leader who was able to play off world powers against one another to ensure the independence and neutrality of his small island nation. He quickly scrapped the defense agreement, expelled the NATO commander and charged the British and Americans for the use of military facilities in Malta. Mintoff also courted Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and communist China, but also allowed the Soviet Union to store naval fuel in Malta and he received aid from Italy. He was able to play to all sides in the Cold War, in return for recognition of Maltese neutrality.

Domestically, Mintoff transformed Malta into a moden and advanced welfare state – imitating the British model. He declared Malta a republic within the Commonwealth in 1974, nationalized a number of key enterprises, expanded the public sector and implemented major social reforms including gender equality, civil marriage and the decriminalization of homosexuality and adultery. Mintoff was reelected in 1976 and in 1981 (despite the PN winning the popular vote in 1981), but characteristically for Maltese politics, he never had a solid parliamentary majority. His opponents claimed that he was an autocratic strongman who stayed in power through gerrymandering, bullying opponents, patronage and even physical bullying at the polls by his supporters.

In his last term in office, Mintoff picked a fight with the Catholic Church – aiming to wrestle control of education and healthcare away from the Church. He closed down two religious private hospitals and threatened to close down the Church’s 70 or so private schools if they did not abolish tuition fees. Mintoff resigned in 1984, and the PN returned to power in the 1987 election.

The PN government under Edward Fenech Adami, which ruled between 1987 and 1992, liberalized the economy, led a pro-European and pro-Western policy and advocated Maltese membership in the European Union. Labour opposed EU membership. When Labour’s Alfred Sant won the 1996 elections, it froze Malta’s EU application. But Sant’s government, which held a one-seat majority in Parliament, only lasted 22 months. In 1998, Mintoff – still an influential backbencher who was scheming behind Sant’s back – voted against the government on a matter of confidence and eventually brought down the short-lived Labour government. The PN returned to power in 1998 and reopened EU membership talks.

In March 2003, a referendum on EU membership was held. Of all EU membership referendums held in 2003 before the big enlargement in 2004, the Maltese vote was the only one which wasn’t a slam dunk for the pro-EU option. The Labour Party and Mintoff actively campaigned against membership, and only 54% voted in favour of membership. Because less than half of eligible voters had actually voted in favour, Labour compelled the PN to seek a mandate from voters in a snap election. The PN was returned with 35 seats against 30 for Labour, a comfortable majority by local standards. Adami was replaced by Lawrence Gonzi in 2004. In the last election in 2008, Gonzi and the PN were reelected but by a margin of only 1,580 votes.

Gonzi’s government was brought down in December 2012 when a PN dissident broke ranks and voted against the government’s budget, which meant that the government lost confidence and was forced to resign.

The PN and Labour have some ideological differences – on issues such as taxation or government intervention – but they tend to be broadly similar. While it was Eurosceptic until 2004, Labour has since made its peace with the European Union and does not advocate any Eurosceptic positions. Malta as a whole is one of the most socially conservative countries in Europe – divorce was officially illegal until 2011 and abortion remains illegal in all cases (one of the strictest abortion laws in the world) – and the PN has usually tended to be to the right of Labour on social/moral issues (Gonzi opposed the new law on divorce, supported by 53% of voters in a 2011 referendum), but even that might be changing given that both parties openly support civil unions for same-sex couples and anti-discrimination legislation.

Prime Minister Gonzi is running on his economic record, stating that he has ensured economic stability and job creation in Malta despite the global economic crisis. Indeed, Malta is performing well within the EU. Its deficit is now under the EU’s 3% limit, unemployment is low at 6% and the economy is projected to grow by 2% in 2013 (it grew by 1.2% in 2012). The only potential issues are the high public debt (71% of GDP) and a recent downgrade in its credit rating (from A- to BBB+ by Standard and Poor’s). Gonzi’s government lowered taxes, and campaigns on more tax cuts (including the income tax and property tax). Labour, led since 2008 by the 39-year old Joseph Muscat, does not have markedly different policies; it focuses on increasing women’s participation in the labour force and reducing electricity costs by 25% by building a new power station. It also promises to cut taxes and reduces ‘wasteful’ public spending.

The traditional third party is the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which has generally won about 1% in general elections although it managed a spectacular 9% in the 2004 European elections. It supports a higher minimum wage, gay marriage, drug legalization and campaign finance legislation (Malta is one of the few EU countries with no campaign finance laws).

Turnout was about 93%, sky high in any other country but fairly low by Maltese standards. The results were as follows:

Labour 54.83% (+6.04%) winning 39 seats (+5)
PN 43.34% (-6.00%) winning 30 seats (-5)
AD 1.8% (+0.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.03% (-0.53%) winning 0 seats (nc)

It was a massive landslide for the opposition Labour Party, which won the popular vote by 11.5% and with a 35,000 vote margin over the governing PN. Maltese elections, since the 1970s, have always been closely fought battles – the 1992 election, in which Labour won 46.5% of the vote, was considered as a PN landslide by Maltese standards. Both parties usually have a loyal, highly motivated and reliable electorate which provides them with a very high floor (but also limits them to a low ceiling); there are few voters, and elections are determined by who drives out their voters the best or manages transfers in STV most efficiently. This year, however, was different. This was the largest victory for any single party since the 1955 election – when Malta was still a British colony and at a time when the party system fluctuated more. In 1955, Labour won 56.7% against 40% for the PN. The 6% swing against the governing party this year was huge. It was not just a case of Labour holding its vote, because its raw vote total increased from 141.8k in 2008 to 167.5k this year, while the PN fell from 143.4k votes in 2008 to 132.4k this year. Polls before the election had showed that at least 8-10% of the PN’s 2008 voters were planning to vote Labour, with an additional 12-15% still undecided at the time. Labour also had a comfortable lead with first-time voters.

Malta’s economy, by EU standards, is doing fairly well and the issues which feature prominently in elections in all other EU countries today (austerity, debts and deficits, unemployment) did not really play a large role in this campaign. The PN was the victim, first and foremost, of voter fatigue. The party has been in power uninterrupted since 1998 (15 years) and for 24 years in the past 26 years since 1987. In that time, especially since 2008, there was a perception that the PN had grown complacent, disconnected/out of touch and even corrupt because of all those years in powers. The government’s decision to raise its own salaries was unpopular, as it came in the middle of the economic crisis. There have also been a number of corruption cases, including a major case involving oil procurement. The government’s recent attempt to hand over management of the island’s public transport system to a German operator was very unpopular, in fact it was the factor which caused the PN rebel to vote against the budget and bring down the government in December. High utility prices, particularly for electricity, also hurt the government.

Labour, under its young leader Joseph Muscat, has become far more appealing and less polarizing than it had been in the past. It dropped one of its major disagreements with the PN (European integration) by shifting away from its past Euroscepticism; it has also reached out to Malta’s business community. Muscat also campaigned on a relatively centrist platform, which hit all the right notes for the electorate: fighting corruption, cutting electricity prices by 25%, lowering income taxes, controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. Given the broad similarities with the PN (which focused primarily on tax cuts), it is not hard to see why a substantial number of PN supporters voted Labour this year.

In the 13 STV districts, Labour won 39 seats to the PN’s 26 seats. The PN was hurt by its terrible job at transfer management, given that Labour won the most seats (3 vs 2) in two districts – 8 (Birkirkara) and 13 (Gozo) – where the PN actually won the most votes. The 2007 amendment to ensure proportionality kicked in, as this article explains. Because Labour’s 39 members were elected with an average of 4,295 votes when the PN’s 26 members were elected with an average of 5,093 votes; the PN found itself entitled to receive four additional seats (the formula used is dividing the PN’s total first preference votes by the lowest average – Labour’s 4,295 – to get 30.8, or an additional 4.8 seats from the PN’s 26 – rounded down because the constitution says the Parliament must have a odd number of seats). The perennially unsuccessful third party, AD, has complained about the ‘perversion’ of this system because their vote count (5,506) is much higher average worked out to ensure proportionality for the two big parties – yet they will have no seats. A Labour MP now supports a constitutional amendment to grant AD parliamentary representation.

Here is a map of Labour and PN’s first pref results by district (see also: first pref winner by district, STV seats by party). There is a clean and clear geographic divide. Labour won 71% in District 2, and over 66% in the three other southern districts – Districts 3, 4 and 5. The second district covers Labour’s birthplace and heartland on the docklands south of Valletta, the capital. The south of the island also seems to be working-class areas. The PN’s best district was District 10, an affluent and residential/touristy area north of Valletta.

Malta’s election signals a major change in leadership, with Labour winning power for the first time since Malta joined the EU and later the Eurozone. As a small country in the wider EU, it is not a particularly significant election; and even domestically, given Labour’s platform and its ideological proximity with the PN, it will not signal a major departure from the former government.

Kenya 2013

Presidential, legislative and regional elections were held in Kenya on March 4, 2013. These are the first general elections under a new constitution adopted in 2010.

The President of Kenya is the head of state and government and serves a five-year term, renewable once. The Vice President is the running mate of the winning presidential candidate. In the past, the President was elected by first past the post in a single-round election with no runoff. Under the new constitution, a runoff is held if no candidate has won over 50% of the vote in the first round and at least 24% in half (24) of Kenya’s 47 counties. The office of Prime Minister, created in 2008 as part of a power sharing agreement following the 2007-2008 crisis, will be abolished and the President will regain his traditional powers as head of state and government.

However, the new constitution granted wider powers to the Parliament, which will now be composed of two houses: the National Assembly (previously the unicameral legislature) and a new Senate. The National Assembly, formerly consisting of 224 members, will now have 350 members – 290 of these will be elected by FPTP in single-member districts (whose boundaries were established by a new boundary and electoral commission, the IEBC). 47 seats will be reserved for women, with each county electing one woman. The remaining seats are reserved for special interest groups, such as young voters or people with disabilities (they will be nominated).

The Senate will consist of 68 members, 47 of which will be elected by FPTP in Kenya’s 47 counties. 16 seats are reserved for women, and it seems as if they be elected in proportion to the share of seats held by each political party in the 47 districts. Four seats are reserved for young people (2 seats) and people with disabilities (2 seats).

For the first time since independence, the new constitution devolves significant powers to 47 counties, although Kenya remains a centralized rather than federal state. Voters in each county will directly elect a governor and a county assembly (elected in single-member wards by FPTP).

The usual meme about Kenya is that it is a model of democracy, rule of law and political stability in turbulent East Africa. That is not the case, nor has it ever been the case. This idyllic image of Kenya was dealt a big blow following the contested 2007 presidential election, when supporters of the defeated candidate clashed with supporters of the incumbent president, killing up to 1,500 people and displacing up to 300,000 others. The 2007-2008 post-election violence was not an unprecedented violent outburst of ethnic violence, it was the culmination of decades and decades of ethnic politics and government-sanctioned ethnic favoritism and oppression.

Kenya gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1963 and became a republic in 1964. Kenya’s first President, who ruled the country until 1978, was Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta had been one of the main leaders of the struggle for independence against Great Britain, a movement which began in earnest following World War II. The nationalist movement was spearheaded by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu people, a tribe which lives in the interior central highlands. Under colonial rule, Britain encouraged white immigration and allowed for the growth of a white planter/grower elite in the Rift Valley and the surrounding central highlands. These large-scale coffee plantations were dependent on Kikuyu labour, the Kikuyu were subjected to the most pressure from settlers. The Kikuyu, but also the Luo, formed the bulk of the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), Kenyatta’s party and the ruling party until 2002.

After independence, Kenyatta’s policies largely favoured the Kikuyu (and their allies, the Embu and Meru). For example, white plantations were mostly broken up and given to black farmers – mostly Kikuyu – forming a black/Kikuyu elite with economic and political power. The unequal distribution of land between the various tribes, and the tradition of the ruling tribe using political/state power to further their interests at the expense of their rivals has created the current climate of ethnic animosities and resentment. In power, Kenyatta largely adhered to a conservative and pro-Western policy, in contrast to other African liberation leaders who turned to the Soviet Union and experimented with socialism or statist policies. After 1969, after Kenyatta banned the Luo-based opposition KPU, Kenya became a de facto one-party state under the KANU.

After Kenyatta’s death in 1978, he was succeeded by his Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin. By the mid-1980s, Moi had turned Kenya into a de jure authoritarian one-party state and had concentrated power in the hands of the Kalenjin (while cooperating with the Kikuyu). Moi remained in power by exploiting ethnic tensions, political violence, inciting ethnic violence and repression of opposition. Under international pressure, Moi was forced to liberalize the country in the 1990s and open up to multi-party politics and elections. He was, however, able to win the 1992 and 1997 elections – generally free but not fair elections.

Barred from running again in 2002, Moi tried to manage the presidential succession in his favour by promoting the candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first President, against that of Mwai Kibaki, Moi’s former Vice President, who assembled a multiethnic opposition coalition (the National Rainbow Coalition). Moi’s strategy backfired and resulted in a humiliating defeat for Kenyatta. Kibaki won the 2002 election with 62% of the vote.

Under Kibaki’s first term, Kenya enjoyed consistently strong economic growth, up to 7% growth in 2007, but inequalities increased and corruption remained widespread and ingrained in politics. The multiethnic coalition, the National Rainbow Coalition, did not last long. In a 2005 referendum on a proposed constitution, certain members of the ruling coalition – notably Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo, joined with KANU to successfully campaign for a NO vote.

Raila Odinga was Mwai Kibaki’s main opponent in the 2007 presidential election. Initial results indicated that Odinga had won, but the final results released by the government proclaimed Kibaki as the victor with 47% against 44% for Odinga. The election was marred by serious allegations of fraud and vote rigging, and it is indeed quite likely that Odinga actually won the election.

The election was followed by a wave of bloodshed, ethnic/tribal violence and rioting. Odinga’s Luo and Kalenjin supporters targeted Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, followed by Kikuyu retaliation. The 2007-2008 crisis claimed up to 1,500 lives and displaced 300,000 people from their homes. The violence petered out as Odinga and Kibaki shared a power-sharing agreement at the end of February 2008 and formed a coalition government in April 2008, with Odinga as Prime Minister and Kibaki as President.

The power-sharing period since 2008 has been described by most as chaotic, but it was at least successful in restoring order (and economic growth) to the country. Kibaki and Odinga both backed the 2010 constitution, ratified by voters in a referendum. The power-sharing government finally got to work on land reform issues, creating (after much wrangling) an independent National Land Commission which has the power settle land disputes and recommend land policies.

Kenyan politics is still all about ethnicity, tribes and complex (and often short-lived) ethnic/tribal alliances. Ideology is barely a factor in electoral campaigns, and none of the leading political parties and coalitions can be said to have a coherent ideology – in fact, a lot of those parties and coalitions tend to be tribal personal vehicles for a leading politician.

Ethnic map of Kenya, 2007 (source: BBC)

Two-thirds of Kenyans are ‘Bantu’, deriving from people who came to eastern and southern Africa over 2000 years ago from western and central Africa during the Bantu Migration. The other third of Kenyans are ‘Nilotic’ people, who originally came from present-day South Sudan and speak Nilo-Saharan (rather than Niger-Congo) languages. The Bantu/Nilotic distinction has little to do with the current ethnic politics; the main ethnic groups in Kenyan politics are the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba.

The Kikuyu (Bantu), the ruling elite under Kenyatta and arguably under Kibaki’s first term, make up about 17-20% of the population (more if their traditional Embu and Meru allies are included) and live in the central highlands. The Luo (Nilotic), make up about 10-14% of the population, reside on the shores of Lake Victoria in Nyanza Province. Barack Obama’s father was a Luo. The Luhya (Bantu) make up about 13% of the population and live in the highlands in the Western Province, north of Lake Victoria and east of Uganda. The Kalenjin (Nilotic), make up 11-13% of the population, mostly in the highlands of the Rift Valley. The Kamba (Bantu), finally, make up 10-11% of the population, found largely in areas to the east of Nairobi. Smaller groups include the Kisii in Nyanza Province, the Mijikenda along the coast, the well-known semi-nomadic Maasai near the Tanzanian border and Somalis in the arid desert areas bordering Somalia.

Elections in Kenya are about forging alliances between various rival ethnic groups against other rival ethnic groups. These alliances never last very long, and most opponents in a presidential election used to be allies in past contests against another candidate or party.

The semi-incumbent in this race is the outgoing Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who is running under the banner of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) which includes his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Raila Odinga is the son of Oginga Odinga, a Luo who briefly served as the country’s first Vice President under Jomo Kenyatta until 1965. Oginga Odinga later founded the Kenyan People’s Union (KPU), a Luo-based opposition party, banned in 1969. Oginga and Raila were opponents of Moi’s regime, and the father ran in the 1992 elections and Raila ran in the 1997 elections. Raila Odinga briefly reconciled with Moi after the 1997 election and served in his cabinet between 2001 and 2002. He joined forces with Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 election, but he broke with Kibaki shortly thereafter and opposed the 2005 constitutional draft. Odinga’s core base of support resides, naturally, with the Luo.

His running mate this year is incumbent Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, a Kamba who is the current leader of the hilariously named ‘Wiper Democratic Movement’. Kalonzo Musyoka ran for president in his own right in 2007, as an ODM dissident, but took only 9% of the vote. The CORD is largely a Luo/Kamba alliance, but it has a base of Luhya support as well.

His main opponent is Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running mate William Ruto – together they form the Jubilee Coalition. Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978). His political career began, humiliatingly, in 2002 when he was promoted by Moi as his hand-picked successor but lost the 2002 election to Kibaki by a huge margin. He allied with Odinga and other politicians during the 2005 referendum. Uhuru Kenyatta served as finance minister between 2008 and 2012 and is also a Deputy Prime Minister. Kenyatta founded his own personal vehicle, The National Alliance (TNA). His running mate is William Ruto, a Kalenjin, and former agriculture and later higher education minister. He is the leader of the United Republican Party (URP).

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are infinitely controversial politicians, given that both have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. Kenyatta is accused of having organized a Kikuyu militia, the Mungiki, during the violence. Ironically, Kenyatta – a Kikuyu – and Ruto – a Kalenjin – found themselves on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008 but they seem to have found common ground with the ICC indictments. Their ICC indictments were not a huge factor in the campaign, given that a lot of politicians in Kenya – even Odinga – want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC to settle the post-election violence from 2007-2008. The main controversy surrounding Uhuru Kenyatta at home might be the allegations that by way of his powerful family, he owns vast tracts of land in central Kenya. His rivals attacked him on this topic during debates, but he denies that he owns large expanses of land.

Kenyatta and Odinga are the two top candidates, but there is a third contender: deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi, a Luhya. Mudavadi, who was Kenyatta’s running mate in 2002 and Odinga’s running mate in 2007, is the leader of the Amani coalition which includes Mudavadi’s United Democratic Forum (UDF) but also the remnants of KANU, controlled by Daniel arap Moi’s son Gideon Moi. Mudavadi was initially promoted by Kenyatta and Ruto in the case that the courts did not approve their candidacies, but when it became clear that Kenyatta and Ruto would be cleared to run, Mudavadi broke with them and decided to run on his own. Mudavadi’s candidacy is supported by former Daniel arap Moi, leading some of his opponents to deride Mudavadi as Moi’s play thing and latest tool.

Ideological factors, naturally, were not a major issue in this campaign. Each candidate clearly targets particular tribes, even if they do not really use openly chauvinistic rhetoric. If there are ideological difference, Uhuru Kenyatta likely leans to the right while Raila Odinga leans more to the left – but those differences are minute and should not be taken seriously.

Turnout was 86% in the presidential election. The IEBC’s online reporting system with a map of the results for all races as results flowed in proved too good to be true, it broke down halfway through the count and threw the reporting process into the dark as the IEBC was forced to count the remaining presidential ballots manually and announce results through clunky PDF files. The results for other races (Parliament, county governors and assembly) appear incomplete and fragmentary as of now.

The results of the presidential election, as reported by the IEBC, was as follows:

Uhuru Kenyatta / William Ruto (Jubilee – TNA/URP) 50.07%
Raila Odinga / Kalonzo Musyoka (CORD – ODM/WDM) 43.31%
Musalia Mudavadi / Jeremiah Ngayu Kioni (Amani – UDF) 3.93%
Rejected ballots 0.88%
Peter Kenneth / Ronald Osumba (Eagle) 0.59%
Mohammed Abduba Dida / Joshua Odongo Onono (ARC) 0.43%
Martha Karua / Augustine Lotodo (NARC-Kenya) 0.36%
James ole Kiyiapi / Winnie Kaburu (RBK) 0.33%
Paul Muite / Shem Ochuodho (Safina) 0.1%

Kenya 2013

The IEBC has declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the president-elect, having won over 50% by the first round and taking over 25% of the vote in well over half of Kenya’s 47 counties (in 42 of them). Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his main rival, has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the result citing fraud and mass tampering with the results, and will challenge the result in the country’s Supreme Court. The courts may decide to overturn the result, but most seem to assume that it will not do so. The outgoing President, Mwai Kibaki, has recognized Kenyatta’s victory.

With such a narrow victory for Uhuru Kenyatta in a country where elections are ‘ethnic censuses’ and Raila Odinga challenging the results, there is some reason to fear for a repeat of the ethnic violence and bloodshed which followed the controversial 2007 election. Odinga’s Luo supporters find themselves shut out from political power yet again, while Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group retains political power in Kenya (in an alliance with their erstwhile enemies the Kalenjin). Kenyatta’s victory will not please everybody, and with such a narrow mandate his legitimacy might be challenged. Kenya clearly remains split along ethnic lines, and this remains a major danger for democracy in the country.

However, Odinga, while challenging the result in court, has urged his supporters to remain peaceful. It seems rather unlikely that Kenya will suffer a repeat of the 2007-2008 crisis. Both men, despite playing on ethnic resentment and tensions for political gain, understand that the 2007-2008 crisis was utterly disastrous for Kenya’s economy and its image abroad. Furthermore, the 2010 constitutional reforms have reduced the potency of the issues which catalyzed the 2007-2008 crisis: devolution, which will allow Odinga’s supporters and minority groups to retain power at the county level; and the first steps on land reform issues which will hopefully resolve contentious land issues (naturally tied to ethnic tensions).

Kenyatta and William Ruto face major domestic challenges including a relatively sluggish economy, high unemployment (especially amongst younger Kenyans) and endemic corruption. They will also need to adapt to a new constitutional framework which has introduced major changes to governance in Kenya, most importantly devolution to county governments and a Parliament which will now include a second, upper, chamber (the Senate).

However, most interest in the new tandem which will govern the country comes from their indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. To gain an idea of how rapidly political allegiances and coalitions may change in Kenya, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008: Kenyatta supported a Kikuyu militia which notably targeted the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley, while Ruto supported Kalenjin groups who targeted the Kikuyu. Grudges or at least erstwhile political rivalries don’t last for long in Kenyan politics, and both men appear to have found some common ground in their ICC indictments. Ruto’s trial is due to begin in late May, and Kenyatta’s trial in early July.

Kenyatta/Ruto’s victory places both men and their country in an awkward and unprecedented situation. The election was a success for democracy, especially if it is not followed by violence. Kenyatta was elected in an election which foreign observers confirmed was free and fair, and can thus claim democratic legitimacy despite a weak mandate and Odinga’s court challenge. However, the winners of this election are indicted by the ICC on several counts of crimes against humanity and have been summoned by the ICC. Unless charges are dropped soon, Kenyatta and his running-mate will join Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in the unsavoury club of heads of states who have been indicted by the ICC.

Sudan is widely seen in the West as a ‘rogue state’ and has long been diplomatically isolated and shunned by the international community (notably the EU and the US) under al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime. However, Kenya is a key longtime regional ally for the West located in a strategic hotspot (bordering Somalia), an economic power in the region and a democracy (albeit a troubled and imperfect one). The West cannot afford to treat Kenya as a rogue state, and it will need to find a way to adapt and work with Kenyatta’s government. Nevertheless, foreign diplomats have issued some harsh statements about Kenya. The British High Commissioner said that Britain would maintain only “essential contact” (limited and minimal diplomatic interaction) with Nairobi in the case Kenyatta won, just like Britain does with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned, before the vote, that “choices have consequences”. China, on the other hand, welcomed Kenyatta’s victory – unsurprisingly as China has long has its eyes set on Kenya and the African continent as a whole as the traditional European powers struggle to retain their foothold in Africa.

But many feel that the ICC’s case against the new governing tandem in Nairobi is weak. The ICC might be brought to drop charges altogether in the next few months.

It is quite possible that Kenyatta/Ruto were actually helped by the ICC indictment. Although the ICC originally enjoyed strong support when it took over the Kenyan case after Kenya itself proved unwilling to seriously prosecute those behind the post-electoral violence; the ICC has quickly lost legitimacy in Kenya. Most politicians, including Raila Odinga, now want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC handling the case. For Kenyatta and Ruto’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin supporters, the ICC indictments were perceived as attacks on their entire communities rather than just those individuals. The Jubilee alliance capitalized on such sentiments and drummed up ethnic support for their ticket, presenting themselves as victims and martyrs.

The Jubilee coalition also played on lingering anti-colonial and somewhat anti-Western sentiment with some Kenyans, who dislike being lectured on democracy by former colonial masters and resent foreign intervention into their domestic politics. The British High Commissioner’s remarks before the vote caused offense to many voters, others – including some foreign observers – criticized the West for its thinly veiled implicit backing of Odinga. Kenyans also took negatively to foreign media coverage of the election. Indeed, the dominant theme in the foreign media’s coverage of the run-up to the election was reminding viewers of the post-electoral violence in 2007-2008 and pondering whether this year’s election would be followed by a repeat of the 2007-2008 ethnic violence. In many cases, Kenyans felt that the foreign media were running with their own pre-conceptions and narratives about the election and what would come out of it. Kenyatta/Ruto’s campaign used nationalistic and anti-colonial rhetoric and voiced concern over the ‘shadowy’ involvement of foreign powers (notably Britain) in the vote.

Kenyatta struck a conciliatory note in his victory speech, promising national unity, working with opponents and the usual good stuff associated with victory speeches. But he also issued a stern warning to the international community, saying that they must respect the country’s sovereignty and the democratic will of its people. While Kenyatta and Ruto have both said that they will continue cooperating with international institutions and will attend their trial in The Hague, they have also made clear that their public duties in office would take priority and prevent them from being in The Hague continually. But despite this nationalistic rhetoric, it is still tough to see Kenyatta transforming into a ‘pariah’ leader. He has the upper hand (and democratic legitimacy) in his dealings with the international community now, but he too will need to work with foreign partners.

Obviously, the presidential results revealed that Kenyan elections and politics remain very much divided by ethnicity. This election, like others in the past, was a traditional “ethnic census” election. Tribal loyalties remain key in Kenyan elections.

Kenyatta/Ruto’s Jubilee coalition united the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups of the central highlands and the Rift Valley. The Kikuyu, like Kenyatta, had backed President Kibaki over Odinga in the 2007 election; but the Kalenjin – former President Daniel arap Moi’s ethnic group – supported Odinga back in 2007. As a result, the ticket won huge margins the Kikuyu and Kalenjin heartlands – about 90 to 95% of the vote. In the counties which make up the old Central Region, the Kikuyu heartland, Kenyatta won 93.9% of the vote. In the predominantly Kalenjin Rift Valley Region, he won 72% of the vote – and well over 85 or 90% in the Kalenjin counties in that region. It appears that Kenyatta also did well with the Maasai in Kajiado County. Not quite sure what was going on in Mandera County, that deep red (92% county) in the country’s arid and desertic northeastern corner bordering Somalia. It is a largely Somali area, but Kenyatta did not sweep Somali voters.

What might have been crucial in Kenyatta’s victory was that he, unlike Odinga, managed a respectable and substantial minority share in those counties where he lost. Perhaps a sign of the dispersion of the Kikuyu throughout southern and central Kenya? Or the divided loyalties of ‘other’ ethnic groups (like the Somali) who were not integrated into either ethnic political alliance this year?

Odinga/Musyoka’s CORD united the Luo and Kamba ethnic groups, who live along Lake Victoria and in parts of the Eastern Region respectively. The Luo are Odinga’s core supporters, and he won 98-99% in Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisumu Counties along Lake Victoria, where the Luo population is concentrated. In 2007, the Kamba had backed Musyoka’s independent candidacy (a distant third); this year they supported Musyoka on the CORD ticket. Odinga won 90.7% in Makueni County, 85.9% in Machakos County and 79.5% in Kitui County – three counties with a predominantly Kamba population. Although they were not “represented” on the ticket, Odinga also found very strong support in the Coast Region, where the Mijkenda and Swahili Muslim merchants have long been clamoring for autonomy and opposed the Kikuyu ruling elites in Nairobi. A secessionist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, tried – without much success – to disturb the election in the coastal region. Odinga won 69.8% in Mombasa and 74.9% in the Coast Region as a whole. From the map, it also appears that the smaller Kisii, Turkana, Samburu and Borana Oromo ethnic groups supported Odinga.

Odinga was victorious by a small margin in Nairobi, with 49% against 46.8% for Kenyatta.

The Luhya, concentrated in the Western Region north of Lake Victoria and on the border with Uganda, were split in this election. On the one hand, they had voted in droves for Odinga in 2007 and some Luhya leaders backed him again this year. On the other hand, there was a Luhya candidate this year – Musalia Mudavadi, Odinga’s 2007 running-mate, now running independently with the backing of former President Moi. As expected, Mudavadi did not sweep Luhya votes but they were his only substantial support base. He took 29% (against Odinga’s 62%) in the Western Region, and won a single county (Vihiga, with 49.2%) in Luhya country. He did not do nearly as well in neighboring counties, and it does not seem as if Moi’s backing brought him any substantial Kalenjin support in the Rift Valley.

I have managed to patch together incomplete results for the other elections (source):

National Assembly
Jubilee 135 FPTP seats + 23 women seats > at least 158 seats
CORD 117 FPTP seats + 21 women seats > at least 138 seats
Amani (Mudavidi) 18 FPTP seats
Eagle Coalition (Kenneth) 2 FPTP seats
Others/independents 18 FPTP seats

Jubilee 21 counties
CORD 20 counties
Amani 4 counties
Others/independents 2 counties

CORD 22 governors
Jubilee 17 governors
Amani 3 governors
Others 3 governors

These results are still incomplete (they do not include the nominated seats or all of the women seats in the National Assembly). But they show that while Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance has won a plurality of seats in both houses, it will likely fall short of an absolute majority even when all the nominated seats are accounted for. The article linked to above notes that, with appointed seats in the National Assembly, Jubilee would end up with 163 seats, short of an absolute majority (176/350). In the Senate, the Jubilee alliance will also fall short of an absolute majority. All this, of course, assumes that nobody switches sides, either to the government or to the opposition – an impossible proposition in Kenyan politics!

Within the new governing alliance, the TNA and URP won roughly the same number of seats with a slight edge to the TNA. The division between the two allies of convenience followed ethnic lines; Kenyatta’s TNA was strongest in the Kikuyu counties, Ruto’s URP was strongest in the Kalenjin counties. Within CORD, Raila Odinga’s ODM was the dominant force but Musyoka’s WDM-K was dominant in Musyoka’s Kamba strongholds and in the Coast Region.

The Senate will play a key role in the devolution process: it determines and oversees the allocation of revenue to counties, considers and votes on bills pertaining to counties and it must also the annual budgets for the new counties.

Assuming the results and the fragile post-electoral peace holds, Kenya will have succeeded in holding a democratic and relatively peaceful election. But what came out of that election – Kenyatta’s victory – is unlikely to please Western governments or foreign onlookers. The election was a major defeat for the ICC. Voters, who had once embraced the ICC, have now rejected it – raising major questions for the ICC’s legitimacy and support with the broader African population, but also the chances for real justice in post-conflict situations in Africa.