It is not surprising that the move by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ( IEBC) to abandon plans for electronic voting in favour of a manual process has sparked debate among Kenyans. Already, opinion is divided on IEBC’s move.
Expectations were high that Kenyans would for the first time use the electronic voting system in the next General Election, the first under the new Constitution promulgated in August 2010. The announcement by the Issack Hassan-led team, therefore, came as an anti-climax.
Already, a number of legislators have criticised the IEBC and accused the commission of mishandling the procurement of the biometric voter registration kits. Others have accused the electoral body of succumbing to the demands made by one side of the ruling coalition, which recently called for a manual voter registration in place of the much-hyped and anticipated BVR.
The MPs said the manual system relied on the “goodwill of individuals” which was not guaranteed, given the history of the country’s elections, the violence and the rigging.
Plans to cancel the electronic voting follows the cancellation of a Sh3.9 billion tender to supply 9,750 Biometric Voter Register (BVR) kits on Wednesday. Mr Hassan, the IEBC chairman, announced the move a day after the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a March 4, 2013 election date.
House Speaker Kenneth Marende has already ordered investigations into the tender process. On Thursday, Hassan and his team appeared before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee and the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee.
The two House committees wanted to know why the tender was cancelled and what measures were in place to shield the poll from manipulation. Hassan, who appeared remorseful over the cancellation of the electronic voting system was quick to assure the members of the two committees that the move will not affect the integrity of the General Election.
Concerns over how the elections will be conducted are valid. This is because the country is yet to recover from the sad events witnessed after the last General Election as a result of disputed presidential results.
The body charged with conducting the 2007 General Election, the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), was largely blamed for the chaos that erupted in different parts of the country for mishandling the exercise. The then ECK chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, admitted the polls were riddled with malpractices.
The post-election violence sparked by the election results dispute resulted in over 1,200 people losing their lives with over 500,000 displaced from their homes and property worth millions of shillings destroyed. Sadly, up to date, some Kenyans are still in IDP camps.
Kenyans expected the birth of IEBC to manage the polls would bring a new dawn and ensure past mistakes are not repeated. For example, it was an open secret that many ‘dead’ voters’ names appeared in the ECK’s voters’ register.
IEBC must know that stakes are already high and the General Election is expected to be the most hotly contested in the country’s history. It, therefore, behooves upon the team to ensure they deliver free, fair and credible elections.