IEBC is not a graveyard, says embattled polls chief amid rising political temperature

IEBC Vice Chair, Lilian Mahiri-Zaja (left) and IEBC chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan addressing the press at Anniversary towers on 24/3/16 [Photo:BEVERLYNE MUSILI/Standard]

Under sustained pressure from the Opposition to quit, IEBC chair Issack Hassan talks to The Standard on Sunday’s Nzau Musau on why he will stay put and how CORD is treading on dangerous grounds.

Q: Why do you think CORD is determined to push you out and why should you stay put against all this pressure?

A: I don’t know. You may have to ask them why. I must stay put because that is what the law says. Independence is not just in letter of the Constitution. We must live it by resisting misguided pressures.

Q: You do not think the conduct of the 2013 election has something to do with this? Is there anything you regret or wish you could have done better in 2013?

A: I have no regret about the 2013 election, not one. There were few challenges and failures here and there, but we explained them. You must ask yourself why there have never been serious complaints in county elections such as MCAs, Senators, Governors and even the National Assembly. Where there were disputes, we settled them within the confines of the law and people moved on.

Q: By all looks, both sides of the divide appear headed to the direction of unanimity on your dissolution. The other day, Jubilee’s Moses Kuria was quoted saying his side does not want you either because you were appointed under the whims of the former Grand Coalition Government. Your fate could be sealed in a matter of time.

A: We would not know what is happening in political circles because we are busy preparing for the election. However, we are aware that the position we hold predisposes us in a very delicate position of those managing or competing for power. We are also aware that our activities attract very powerful forces and that they can unite against us. We are determined to secure our legacy as a commission and to ensure this office is not reduced to a game of musical chairs.

Q: How determined are you to hang on despite the pressures from politicians, clergy, civil society and the political class? Many before you have sworn to hang on only to give in the following day.

A: We are very determined, that I can assure you. We are not going to allow the IEBC to be reduced to a graveyard of careers and reputations.

Q: The Chickengate scandal appears to be one of the sticking issues of integrity on your part. How could you possibly wash it away?

A: First of all the term “chicken” is demeaning. From the way it was used and its context, it must have come from a junior officer. I would imagine if it were a senior commission official they would have used better terminology for a bribe. Only a junior official would call it chicken, and certainly not a pastoralist like me. In my case, and in appreciation of my culture and upbringing, I would most likely call it a camel. Having said that, I maintain my innocence on this matter. I believe proper investigations would be able to establish who ate the chicken and charge them accordingly.

Q: But in all honesty, don’t you think it’s a little bit bizarre that the UK suspects were tried, convicted and jailed but little is happening on the Kenyan side?

A: That is why I am calling for speedy conclusion of the investigation so that we can be vindicated. I just hope that the investigators are not influenced by the negative and misinformed headlines against me.

Q: From where you sit, doesn’t this smell 2007? The events playing themselves: dissatisfaction with the commission, a lot of hate-speech, talk of boycott and the like?

A: I agree with those saying that we are walking in the footsteps of 2007. My call as the chairman of IEBC is for Kenyans to remember what we went through in 2007 and 2008 and avoid the pitfalls.

Q: What is the one promise that you can give Kenyans with regard to the conduct of the 2017 election?

A: What I can assure Kenyans, including the CORD leadership, is that we have the motivation and the will to conduct a proper, free and fair election next year. We know where we failed in 2013 and we have addressed ourselves to these failures. We have the motivation to do a better job this time round because we want to exit this commission honorably.

Q: If you were to be forced out through the ongoing clamor, what would be your expectation of the new commission in terms of identification and delivery of the next election?

A: If we were to be forced out, I think there would be no independent commission to talk about in the first place. Certainly they would not be able to independently conduct the election. You would also not attract quality candidates for the positions because the commission would have been turned into a graveyard. Nobody would want to be associated with graveyard unless they have no reputation and no care for themselves and their country.

Q: Back to the question of CORD and its threat to boycott the election unless you quit, don’t you think the magnitude of this resolve, if true, is huge and the implications dire?

A: The first question you would want to ask is which election will they boycott because we normally conduct six elections in one. I doubt their MCA aspirant’s will boycott.

Q: They will most likely tell you the presidential election. Don’t you think this is largely a political problem rather than legal one and therefore your refuge in the law could be misguided?

A: I agree with you. This issue is largely political and it’s upon the political actors, including those threatening to boycott, to resolve it from their end.

Q: At the press conference you indicated that it is an electoral offence to intimidate electoral officers and that you could punish such offenders. What could you possibly do to CORD leaders and Raila Odinga, their leader?

A: We will bar them from participating in the election if they persist on intimidating the commission against the law. You can quote me on that. We will bar them.

Q: You claim the commission is smarting from three years of sustained bashing from the media and opposition leadership. How do we move on from here?

A: We have done introspection and realised we need a more structured dialogue with all our stakeholders. Moving forward you will see a more proactive commission which is keen to tell its story as opposed to letting others tell our story and in the process blur the truth.