SECTIONS

Azimio protests William Ruto's move to change IEBC selection panel

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and his Deputy Juliana Cherera at Bomas of Kenya on August 22, 2022, during a meeting with political aspirants. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

President William Ruto could have more say in the composition of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), opening a new battlefront with the Opposition.

A Bill seeking to alter the membership of the selection panel that picks IEBC commissioners proposes to reduce Parliament's say on the subject, ahead of an imminent overhaul of the polls agency.

The Bill fronted by Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa wants to reduce the number of nominees from the Parliamentary Service Commission to two from the current four, taking away its majority in the seven-member selection panel.

One of the former four slots will be handed to the Public Service Commission, a body essentially controlled by the Executive, if the Bill becomes law.

This could be the next bone of contention between Ruto and Raila, given that it gives the president an advantage in the panel's composition.

The other position will be handed to the Political Parties Liaison Committee, which comprises all political parties and is overseen by the Registrar of Political Parties.

It is unclear whether Ruto's United Democratic Alliance has the most stake in its membership and resolutions.

The Law Society of Kenya will retain its single slot on the panel, with the Inter-religious Council of Kenya keeping its two positions. The Bill will need Senate's concurrence as it concerns county governments.

The Bill comes ahead of the exit of IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati and two other commissioners, Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu, in two months.

Ruto has already gazetted the imminent vacancies at the commission.

Kenya Kwanza plans to eject the other four commissioners who dissented in the August 9 presidential election - vice-chair Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Justus Nyang'aya and Francis Wanderi, with a petition seeking their removal already tabled at the National Assembly.

"The principal object of this Bill is to amend the First Schedule to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission No 9 of 2011 to change the composition of the Selection Panel that oversees the filling of vacant positions in the Commission," the Bill reads in part.

Lawmakers from the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party are already reading mischief, with Minority Whip describing the proposed changes as "State capture."

"We shall reject this both in Parliament and (in) public," Junet tweeted on Thursday. "Now this is the real State capture and (of the) 2027 elections. What is the hurry!!

Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi yesterday said that the timing of the Bill was suspect given the looming recruitment of new commissioners, claiming that Ruto was planning to control the polls agency.

"I don't see the urgency. It should have waited for the recruitment of the three commissioners," Wandayi said, calling the planned changes an attempt to water down the representation of the Parliamentary Service Commission.

"The long and short of it is that they want to control the recruitment process. They want it to be at their firm grip from all angles. One can read many sinister things," Wandayi added.

The Ugunja MP said they were not involved in the formulation of the Bill, a process he said should have been bipartisan.

"Anything about the IEBC must be approached with caution and in a bipartisan way to avoid being perceived as having ulterior motives. We don't seem to understand the rationale for these changes and are waiting for them to explain that to us."

Constitution lawyer Bobby Mkangi terms the change "cosmetic", arguing that it is done under the guise of change.

"The only advantage is that it broadens the scope of institutional representation, but these institutions are still beholden to the politics of the day and the various formations," Mkangi said, adding that the president would have an advantage in the new law.

"It is a light modification of the previous format but it still exposes the process of selecting IEBC commissioners to mischief," he said.

"The best approach would be de-linking parties hiding behind the veils, which would allow competent Kenyans to sit in the IEBC without enjoying the backing of politicians. Sometimes we forget that elections are about all Kenyans and not just political parties."

The selection of IEBC commissioners has always been a thorny subject, dating back to the advent of pluralism in 1992.

Political parties have seemed to favour a formula that has them at the decision-making table, allowing them to nominate members to the commission.

Over the years, Raila has seemed to favour the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group formula, adopted in 1997.