Referendum push hikes calls for reforms at IEBC

IEBC commissioners Paul Kurgat, Margaret Mwachana and Consolata Maina when they announced their resignation last April. [File, Standard]

The renewed push for referendum has thrust the electoral commission into focus, with calls for total overhaul of the agency.

Yesterday, political players said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was greatly discredited by the 2017 “bungled” presidential election that was nullified by the Supreme Court.

National Super Alliance (NASA) co-principal Musalia Mudavadi has called for an overhaul of the current team, even as some MPs suggested formation of an interim office to handle the vote in amending the Constitution.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi, Ford-Kenya secretary general Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren) and MPs Titus Khamala (Lurambi) and Otiende Amollo (Rarieda), have said the commission, as currently constituted, is in shambles, thus cannot be trusted to oversee a credible process.

They cited the resignation of the commission’s vice chairperson Connie Maina, commissioners Roselyn Akombe, Margaret Mwachanya and Paul Kurgat, and the current squabbles between chairman Wafula Chebukati and suspended CEO Ezra Chiloba.

At the same time, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) and National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) differed over the calls to disband the commission ahead of a possible third referendum that has since received backing from across the political divide.

Philip Anyolo, the KCCB chairman, said there would be need to “review” IEBC for a credible exercise.

“Let’s have all the review, including at IEBC. The process should also be handled with sobriety to allow people to understand what they are participating in,” said Bishop Anyolo.

But NCCK deputy General Secretary Nelson Makanda said the commission could handle the plebiscite so long as there was no political interference.

“IEBC is not an issue. The problem is always the political class when they interfere with key processes like tendering of election materials and hiring of senior staff,” said Dr Makanda.

“Last time we assisted in the exit of the other commission, but this time we are not ready. If they stay away from interfering with IEBC, then I believe it is in a position to preside over a credible process,” he added.

He warned that the process might be lost in political noise should the political class capture it as a launchpad for their 2022 election contest.

Mr Chebukati yesterday said the commission was in good shape to preside over a third referendum.

“The court has also expressed itself on the matter, including quorum. In any case, it’s not the commission to appoint commissioners but other agencies with Parliament tasked with coming up with regulations on the exercise,” he said.

But Mudavadi said the commission had no moral authority to preside over a national vote, citing the nullification of the August 8, last year win by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the repeat presidential election after his demands for electoral reforms were not met.

“How can we trust IEBC when judges found the agency to have bungled the elections? We want it reconstituted before it is allowed to oversee the referendum,” said Mudavadi.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi said the process could stall over the already emerging political demands, and averred that there was need for consensus on issues around the process.

Current form

Mr Mkangi also warned that the outcome of the process could be challenged in court should IEBC conduct the process in its current form.

“IEBC is suffering greatly in the eye of the public in terms of credibility. I want to believe there is enough time to fix it. Beyond the legal argument, I think if we go for a national exercise it would raise issues during and afterwards. I can foresee legal challenges of the final outcome and that would be a waste of time and resources,” Mkangi told The Standard.

Mr Murkomen yesterday said there were stringent constitutional requirements that made it hard for one to whimsically change the Supreme Law.

"At the heart of referendum is the facilitation by IEBC, which at the moment is involved in internal strife that undermines its suitability and credibility,” said Murkomen.

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