What must be done to inject confidence in elections body, process

With Parliament back from recess, the legislative agenda is back and all eyes are on both Houses to see whether efforts geared toward pending legislative issues bear fruit.

Top on the agenda of Parliament should be how to make our electoral body more effective to deal with our electoral processes. Because of its very nature, Parliament takes a central role in ensuring that maximum support is given to the body to ensure all its functions are carried out.

From fast-tracking the replacement of the four commissioners to the criteria and process of recruiting commissioners in the future, Parliament’s in-tray is full in this respect. 

This is so important because, more than anywhere else, land and elections can, without contest, be classified as the top most emotive subjects in Kenya. Their relevance recurs every five years and more often than not, one affects the other.

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This can explain the premium Kenyans attach on any process that affects these two. Hence, how the electoral process is managed defines not only our politics but also our social and economic standing.

Ticking timebomb

After the disputed General Election of 2007, the Johann Krieger commission which looked at our electoral processes laid blame of the flawed elections squarely on the shoulders of defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). The commission found that the ECK had been appointed in a defective manner and lacked independence.

The 2010 Constitution adopted most of the recommendations of the Kriegler Commission which aimed at addressing the problems identified. Kenya has held two General Elections under the new constitutional and legal framework.  What is certain is that both the 2013 and the 2017 elections were still disputed and the process was challenged in and out of court. IEBC was accused of mismanaging the elections.

We all know and expect our electoral body to be like a referee in a game between antagonistic players. Unfortunately, the game of politics has been characterised by stiff competition and high stakes for both the winners and the losers. I don’t see it changing in 2022 or any other time because we have commercialised our politics. Indeed, it’s a matter of life and death.

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There are several issues which need attention.

In the period leading to the 2017 elections, the CORD side had raised issues about the ability of the IEBC as constituted to conduct free and fair elections. Demonstrations were organized across the country against the IEBC. Whether NASA was justified or not, this was one among many steps that undermined public confidence in IEBC. Public confidence is not only a matter of reality but also a function of perception. We all know that repeating a lie many times may end up making it sound truthful.

Secondly, whether reconstituted or otherwise, whatever electoral body in place bearing whatever name must strive to ensure they win the confidence of the public. This is because the public does not act independently. It is organized either through social movements, pressure groups or political coalitions. These entities have leadership. IEBC must engage the leadership of these actors and ensure all some level of satisfaction with the preparations, organization and conduct of the entire electoral process.

Thirdly, though some have argued that each political party should nominate members to constitute the electoral body, it is the culture and nature of our politics to profile and antagonise competitors based on one’s political affiliation, community or region.

As to whether this can foster confidence from the party leadership to the grassroots, is a different matter. Again, with coalition-building changing from time to time and with new political vehicles every electoral season as a feature of our politics, one can only wonder how nomination of members of the electoral body by the political parties will work.

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Fourth, we should prioritise and make sure that our electoral body is insulated from political interests and attacks which further weaken the electoral body. Issues of financing and campaigning framework need to be looked at and sorted.

Perhaps this is why IEBC’s Post Election Evaluation Report for the 2017 polls shows that these challenges are rife. It is also desirable that will make the electoral body more effective should be done early enough to avoid last minute litigation that hamper proper planning.

Importantly, the stakeholder engagement mechanism should be prioritised for this contributes towards public confidence.

Ultimately, in trying to find a balance for our electoral body and processes to work for the good of Kenya Parliament must move fast and work to ensure it serves its purpose for the country’s survival depends on it.

Prof. Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert teaches at University of Nairobi. Email;[email protected]

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ParliamentGeneral ElectionKenyaIEBCKriegler CommissionConstitution