NCCK: Include political parties in the Electoral Commission

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Secretary General Rev Canon Peter Karanja (C) accompanied and other religious leaders interact with Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Samson Cherargei after the public hearing on the Election Laws (Amendment) bill at County Hall, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]
The Church has proposed the inclusion of political party representatives in the electoral body.

This, the church leaders said, “will help reduce mistrust, betrayal and backstabbing in the management of elections” in the country.

In addition, the leaders proposed that the chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) does not have to be an advocate of the High Court.

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), in a raft of proposals to the Senate Justice and Legal Affairs, argued that lawyers were not the only professionals with election-management skills.

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“Elections management and administration and the leadership of IEBC require to be freed from the current limits of law qualification. It has not been demonstrated that the qualification of a law degree has shielded the country from either malpractices or provided robust leadership,” said NCCK secretary general Peter Karanja.

In his submissions to the Samson Cherargei-led committee, Karanja argued that the inclusion of political parties’ representatives to the commission would reduce mistrust and instill a sense of inclusion.

Election dynamics

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Karanja spoke during a public hearing on the Election Laws Amendment Bill 2018 and the Election Offenses Amendment Bill 2018.

He also proposed that the electoral agency should have a maximum of seven commissioners. Three members, he said, should be nominated by political parties based on their strength and the members should not have a fixed term limit.

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“Given the contextual dynamics of elections in Kenya, the independent model should be complemented by political parties’ appointees to the commission. Empirical research establishes that in politically divided contexts such as Kenya, political appointments to the commission are crucial in mitigating problems associated with bias,” said Karanja.

The NCCK also proposed that Parliament should amend Section 7(2) of the IEBC law to provide for both part-time and full-time commissioners. It said the Ghanian model of three full-time and four part-time commissioners should be considered.

On the qualification of the IEBC chair, Karanja asked the Senate committee to consider changing the law and allow the chair and vice-chair to have the same academic qualifications.

“This move will cure the potential for a constitutional vacuum and an attempt by Parliament to elevate the position of the vice-chair as was witnessed in the middle of the 2017 elections,” said Karanja.

Sufficient penalty

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The Church, however, opposed an amendment to the Elections Offenses Act that criminalises a candidate who fails to sign an election return form.

“We find this to be unconstitutional. The amendment is sufficient penalty because failure to sign means you may not use the unsigned forms as evidence in case of a petition,” said Karanja.

NCCK’s proposal was supported by the Judiciary Committee on Elections representative Justice Kathurima M’Minoti, who said there was no justification to compel a candidate to sign the election return form.

“We feel that a candidate should not be compelled to sign an erroneous form that could then put them in an awkward situation of not petitioning the election outcome,” said Justice M’Minoti.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) commissioner Mwaniki Gachoka said while criminal culpability had been used to clear candidates, personal integrity should be used as the threshold.

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NCCKIEBCSenate Justice and Legal Affairs