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Kenya's elections chief confronted over 2012

BUSINESS
By | December 7th 2011
By | December 7th 2011
BUSINESS

By Peter Opiyo and Athman Amran

The third Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Review Conference closed with a stern warning to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to ensure next year’s polls are free, fair and credible, and not to issue alarming statements.

The message, directed at IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan, was blunt; he must avoid alarming

Retired Ghana President John Kufuor and former South African First Lady Graca Machel at Kenya National Dialogue Conference on Tuesday in Nairobi. Photo: Moses Omusula/Standard

talk on IEBC’s level of preparedness for the elections the kind of which his predecessor Mr Samuel Kivuitu treated Kenyans to in the run-up to 2007 General Election.

Local and international speakers also reminded him of the onerous burden he bears on his shoulders, and how the manner in which he executes the coming elections can change Kenya for good, and deepen its sense of nationhood.

Speaker after speaker focused on next year’s elections, ranging from level of preparedness, credibility issues, peaceful exercise to the elections date.

The speakers that captured Kenyans’ state of expectation, anxiety, and even trepidation, as the elections draw closer included retired South African Judge Johann Kriegler, who led the commission that investigated Kenya’s electoral mess, and made drastic recommendations on how to avoid the same pitfall next year.

Those who made their voices heard where unanimous in the message that Kenya is running short of time to prepare adequately for the 2012 elections, a fact Hassan acknowledged.

Face-to-face

Hassan came face to face — for the first time since he formally took over the new electoral body after his tenure in the moribund Interim Independent Electoral Commission — with the fear of another mismanaged and bungled General Election that haunts Kenyans.

A candid admission was also made that the IEBC alone cannot secure free and fair polls but all Kenyans have to join the effort to ensure the outcome of the elections will reflect the wishes of the country and is seen to be the voice of democracy at the ballot box.

As the conference convened by former UN Secretary General Dr Kofi Annan who was the chief mediator during the 2007-2008 bloodletting closed, participants raised grave concerns on the preparations and challenges facing IEBC a year to elections.

Talks on the electoral process dominated the conference as Kenya attempts to shake off its messy past, muddied by a disputed presidential poll, and open a new chapter under the new Constitution.

get it right

Kriegler set off the pace as the first speaker by warning that Kenya has no option but to get things right this time. He said that delineating boundaries, which is IEBC’s immediate task, would be the biggest challenge the Hassan’s team.

Kriegler received plaudits after outlining issues he said should be dealt with comprehensively, to avoid problems that had bedeviled Kenya.

"The boundaries’ drawing exercise is a technically complex and politically extremely difficult exercise which is an extreme agony to the commission," said Kriegler.

He told the meeting, attended by former African presidents Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) and John Kufuor (Ghana), and former South African First Lady Mrs GraÁa Machel, who all participated in the making of Kenya’s peace deal, that IEBC would not succeed unless the political class supports it.

"I am not saying this to frighten anyone, but the commission will require every support they need because if they do not get it, they will not get off the ground," said Kriegler whose commission recommended disbandment of Kivuitu’s commission.

Kriegler warned that if the coming General Election fails, Kenya would be in serious trouble.

"Those elections dare not fail. You have been given a second chance and it has got to work this time," Kriegler said, adding that it was unfortunate the IEBC became functional only three weeks ago.

"This means that it has eight months to get going and it will have to run very complex elections," Kriegler noted.

The chairman of the Electoral Commission of Ghana, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, which is billed to have executed one of the most superb elections in Africa in recent times, advised that a credible electoral process is everyone’s responsibility and not just IEBC.

"Whether we are judges, journalists or anybody, we are all responsible for achieving a credible election," said Gyan.

High mountain

Kriegler pointed out that the IEBC was facing a "very high mountain", which would need inspired political leadership and national support to surmount.

Hassan said he was confident his team would conduct a credible General Election next year, as long as it gets the necessary support from all players, and adequate time to prepare. Authors of the current Constitution revealed they envisaged the first elections under the new charter would be held in December.

Former Committee of Experts members Dr Ekuru Aukot and Chaloka Beyani said they had a December date in mind, when they wrote the charter, revealing it was an aspect that was borrowed from the many draft Constitutions that preceded the 2005 plebiscite.

This position contradicts interpretation of the Commission for the Implementation of Constitution (CIC), but is in conformity with the view of IEBC.

Earlier, Hassan said the country has a reformed Judiciary, which people can trust, and there were on-going security sector reforms, which he argued can ensure integrity of other reforms.

He assured Kenyans that the IEBC would conduct a clean voter registration exercise, and have a credible voter register to avoid "vote stuffing", which Kriegler said is a common feature in previous Kenyan elections.

To fend off perceptions, that he was playing the devil’s advocate, the former Chairman of the South African Electoral Commission, pointed out that he was only speaking as "an admirer of Kenya and her people, and not as a critic from abroad".

Civil society groups took Hassan to task over IEBC’s capacity to handle the elections before the proposed December date. Executive Director of Haki Focus, lawyer Harun Ndubi, questioned the body’s capability to hold polls should the Grand Coalition Government collapse.

Hassan had earlier indicated that the August date would be a tricky situation, given that his team requires adequate time to prepare for the polls, and that it may be a hurried process.

But Transparency International’s Teresa Omondi and a local security expert, Sam Kona called on Hassan to inspire trust among Kenyans by emphasising his team was ready for elections anytime.

"You remind me of Kivuitu. This is how he started, by claiming that some of his staff were cooking results," Kona told Hassan, who apologised saying he did not intend to create this perception, but was saying the truth.

Graig Jennes, Director of the Electoral Assistance Division at the UN, said the success of the elections would be determined on whether the outcome reflects the will of the public.

"There is no electoral commission in the world that will ensure there can be no violence," he said, pointing out that it is the role of everybody to ensure peaceful elections.

 

 

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