SECTIONS
Premium

Four IEBC Commissioners suspended as focus shifts to battle for selection rules

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati with suspended Vice Chair Juliana Cherera at Bomas of Kenya on August 22, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is facing a rebirth with the kicking out of commissioners and passage of a new law that changes who selects the new referees.

President William Ruto yesterday suspended four commissioners of the electoral body and appointed a tribunal to investigate IEBC vice chairperson Juliana Cherera and commissioners Francis Mathenge, Irene Masit and Justus Nyang’aya.

But Mr Nyang’aya chose to quit than face the tribunal, protesting his innocence.

In a letter to Ruto last evening, Nyang’aya defended the actions that led to his suspension insisting they were done in good faith.

“I have always endeavoured to act in the best interest of the country, although my actions, taken in good faith have been misconstrued,” he said. 

The resignation letter added that his leaving office was in the best interest of the country and had taken introspection and fervent prayer.

“In the last few weeks, have had serious soul searching and being a man of faith, prayed fervently so that I may have the wisdom to make a decision that is in the best interest of the country. We all agree that the best interest of the nation must always supersede our individual interest,” he wrote.

President Ruto’s decision followed the recommendation of the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee which ruled Thursday that four petitions against the four met the threshold for a tribunal.

In the same sitting that condemned the ‘Cherera Four’, the National Assembly passed the IEBC (Amendment) Bill sponsored by Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, which changes the membership of the selection panel that picks commissioners.

With a tribunal in place whose outcome will likely be the removal of the four commissioners, and Parliament having passed a law that gives the executive more say in the panel that selects new commissioners, Ruto is on achieving an end that opposition leaders say the country should be worried about - an electoral agency created in his own image.

“Having received and considered the petition of the National Assembly and in the exercise of the prerogative vested in the Head of State and Government by Article 251 of the Constitution, I do hereby direct as follows: THAT Cherera, Wanderi, Masit and Nyang’aya, being members of the IEBC, be and are hereby suspended from office with immediate effect,” the notice reads.

The tribunal will be headed by High Court Judge Aggrey Muchelule and its membership will comprise Carolyne Kamende Daudi, Linda Gakii Kiome, Mathew Njaramba Nyabena, Col (Rtd) Saeed Khamis Saeed. Kibet Kirui Emmanuel and Irene Tunta Nchoe are joint secretaries, while Peter Munge Murage will be a lead counsel with the assistance of Zamzam Abdi Abib.

“The mandate of the tribunal shall be to consider the petition for the removal of Cherera, Wanderi, Masit and Nyang’aya from office as members of IEBC and to inquire into the allegations therein,” the President said.

And things were moving swiftly too.

As Chief Justice Martha Koome presided over the swearing in of members of the tribunal hours after its formation.

But Ruto’s decision drew a sharp reaction from Azimio leader Raila Odinga who told a leaders meeting in Nairobi that the President was returning the country to strongman rule.

The electoral agency is still feeling the scars of the last election as pressure from outside adds to the tension inside the electoral body.

Reverend Dennis Ndwiga Nthumbi, the Republican Party, Geoffrey Langat and Owuor Steve Gerry filed the petitions accusing the four of serious violations of the Constitution, gross misconduct and incompetence.

Partisan issue

The fate of IEBC has now become a partisan issue on the floor of the House. While members of President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance have all but ensured Cherera and the three other commissioners do not remain members of the electoral body, Raila is leading the opposition to dig in.

He said Ruto’s plan to remove the commissioners was a scheme to rig the 2027 polls and guarantee his stay in office. (See separate story on Page 7)

 IEBC will next week hold a by-election in Bungoma county to elect a new senator with the fate of the four commissioners resting firmly before the tribunal.

It also has oversee mini-polls in Elgeyo Marakwet County as well as Kandara and Garissa Township constituencies on January 5.

It has been work as usual for the commissioners who have been attending meetings for the purpose of planning for the by-elections and boundaries geo-data collection.

The Wafula Chebukati-led commission is currently accrediting observers and media who will participate in the exercise. Political parties have also forwarded the names of candidates who won the by-elections.

United Democratic Alliance nominees Kisang William Kipkemoi (Senator Elgeyo Marakwet), Dekow Mohamed Barrow (MP Garissa Township) and Njuguna Chege (MP Kandara) have been given certificates by the party.

The by-elections will replace Kipchumba Murkomen, Aden Duale and Alice Wahome who were appointed to Cabinet.

As Cherera, Mathenge, Masit and Nyang’aya prepare to face the tribunal created by President Ruto, the other three commissioners: Chebukati and commissioners Boya Molu and Abdi Guliye are counting the number of days before they leave the offices they have held for six years.

President Ruto has already gazetted the vacancies in the position of IEBC chairperson and two members of the electoral commission from January 17 next year.

Appointed on January 18, 2017, their six-year non-renewable terms lapse in two months.

In the fallout caused by the disagreement in the commission over the winner of the August 9 presidential election between leading candidates, Ruto and Raila, the commission broke into two poles.

Cherera, Wanderi, Masit and Nyang’aya walked out of the National Tallying Centre at the Bomas of Kenya and disowned the results which they termed “opaque”.

“We are not able to take ownership of the results that will be announced,” she said.

Chebukati, Molu and Guliye on the other hand stuck by the tally at Bomas and the declaration of Ruto as the winner.

Should the tribunal find that indeed there were violations committed by the four commissioners and instigate their removal, the country could head to the next election in 2027 with a completely new IEBC.

An overhaul of the election body has been imminent and opened a new battlefront between the government and the opposition.

But that is not the only thing that has had Azimio la Umoja uneasy.

Ichung’wah’s Bill, if it becomes law, will see Parliamentary Service Commission nominate one man and one woman to the selection panel down from the current four and cede the other two to the Public Service Commission, a body essentially controlled by the Executive.

Cede power

The Bill thus seeks to reduce Parliament’s say on the individuals that pick the members of the electoral body and cede some of that power to the executive.

The selection panel consists of four nominees, two men and two women, nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission, a nominee by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops; the other nominated by the National Council of Churches of Kenya; one person nominated by the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. The National Muslim Leaders Forum and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya nominate one person, as do the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya and the Hindu Council of Kenya.