By Kethi D Kilonzo
Once upon a time, not very long ago, only the President could set the date of the General Election and decide when to dissolve Parliament. Before the 2010 Constitution, this power was one of the political tools at the disposal of the incumbent President.
It was time and again used to give the incumbent, if seeking re-election, or his choice of candidate, the maximum possible advantage over the opposition.
Back then, as it is now, once a new President and his government were sworn in, Kenya and Kenyans would go back to electioneering.
The gerrymandering, repositioning, defections, party hopping, formation of new political parties, collapse of existing parties, backstabbing and bootlicking would resume and continue for another four years in readiness for retention or change of power.
Even the enactment of the Political Parties Act has been unable to tame the party hopping, and to keep elected members of political parties to toeing the party line.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that only one year after the election of a new Government in March 2013, everyone’s eyes – Government and opposition – are trained on the next General Election.
This was the mischief behind the introduction of Articles 101 and 102 of the Constitution. Under these Articles, general elections should be held on the second Tuesday of August in every fifth year.
On this issue, there was little, if any, opposition. Everyone wanted this power, to set the date of the next General Election and to dissolve Parliament, taken away from the President.
After the promulgation of the Constitution, it was widely assumed and celebrated that all general elections would be held on the second Tuesday of August in five-year cycles. The uncertainty of the date of the General Elections was now a thing of the past. It was not to be.
It took no less than the intervention of the High Court and the Court of Appeal for the date of the first General Election to be agreed upon.
What then is the date of the second General Election under the Constitution? Is it (a) 4th March 2018? or (b) 14th August 2018? or (c) 8th August 2017 or (d) None of the above?
Fresh debates have started on the issue. This is both surprising and alarming. Surprising, because it is a matter that was argued and debated before the High Court and the Court of Appeal and settled by the courts with finality.
Alarming, because if the debates continue a false impression will spread in the minds of the public that there is uncertainty over the date of the next General Election. That impression of uncertainty should be nipped in the bud before the debate grows longer roots or sprouts any more branches.
The date of the next General Election is 8th August 2017. It is not March 2018, which is the fifth year anniversary of the March 2013 elections. Nor is it 14th August 2018. The Court of Appeal in its decision of 31st July 2012 restated the 8th August 2017 date. It is this decision that set the date of the first General Election. It was not challenged at the Supreme Court by any party. Plus, the time within which the decision could have been challenged is long gone.
The court decided that the date of the first General Election depended on the expiry of the term of the 10th Parliament. In order to preserve the five years term of the 10th Parliament, the court in its wisdom shortened the life of the Eleventh Parliament and the current government by six months.
The date of the second General Election is cast in stone; by the Constitution and by edict of the courts. The debate should be put to a stop. Permanently.