Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri has proposed amendment to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act seeking to have current deviations between constituencies in terms of population or even counties be equal to the number of votes.
Kiunjuri said that whereas the deviation of voters in different electoral units varies depending on a country’s laws, a deviation of 50 per cent would be hard to justify.
"Several countries have accepted a deviation of 10 per cent or less, or as Krigler Commission had recommended one of not more than 20 per cent to cater for special considerations such as those provided in our Constitution. In the United States, for example, the Supreme Court has held that a maximum deviation of 10 per cent is acceptable for congressional districts, and a maximum deviation of 5 per cent is acceptable for state legislative districts," he said.
The MP explained that the proposals are not about achieving numerical equality of voters in every electoral unit, but rather to get a reasonable level of equality while taking into account other factors such as geographic features, communities of interest, and historical factors.
"I would like to point out that delimitation of constituencies can have a significant impact on the weight of individual votes depending on how they are drawn. I am urging this House to pay particular attention to the forthcoming process to ensure that we achieve fair representation and as much as equal weight of the vote across electoral units as possible," he said.
Kiunjuri who was making his presentation to the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, observed that other countries reputed to have the least deviations for purposes of achieving fair and equitable representation are Denmark with a maximum deviation allowed for parliamentary constituencies of 2 per cent which is one of the lowest in the world.
Other Scandinavian countries with the lowest deviation in parliamentary constituencies is 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent for Norway, and a similar number for Sweden.
He allayed fears over the possibility of 27constituencies being scrapped over their failure to have the requisite numbers as recommended by the Constitution.
Kiunjuri said that the last time the country underwent an electoral boundaries review was in 2010 under the the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC) popularly known as Ligale Commission (named after its Chairman, Andrew Ligale) concluded the exercise with a very informative report
He noted that the Kriegler report recommended that the basic principle for delimitation of constituencies should be the equality of the votes and the maximum departure from that principle should clearly be defined in the law.
"Equality of voting strength should be aimed at in all cases, although in rare case specially justified circumstances, a 5 to 20 per cent deviation range could be accepted. Criteria such as density of population trends, means of communication, geographical features and community of interest should be retained but they should interfere minimally with the basic principle of voting strength," said Kiunjuri.
Unfortunately, the MP said, Parliament had not enacted any law yet defining how to give effect to Article 89 of the Constitution that would protect equal representation and ensure that the inhabitants in each constituency and ward is as nearly as possible equal to the population quota.
He said that the Ligale commission Report had recommended that the delimitation of constituencies and local authority electoral units was to ‘proceed on the basis of equality of votes.
"As primary criteria, the IIBRC was to ensure that each vote cast in an election would carry as much weight as far as possible as any other vote cast in the same elections. Thus, under this parameter the IIBRC would set a mechanism of having as far as possible, equal number of voters in every constituency or local authority electoral unit’," argued Kiunjuri
The MP explained that when the constituency becomes the locus of government resource allocation and opportunities, as is the case now, boundaries of each constituency shall be of such that the number of inhabitants in the constituency is, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota.
Kiunjuri said there were six roles that the government resources and opportunities are allocated at a constituency level including recruitment of teachers, Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Police, Kenya Forest Service, National Youth Service, Kenya Police Reservists, bursary allocation and allocation of administrative units.
Others he said were allocation of resources for infrastructure for roads under Kenya Rural Roads Authority, distribution of resources for special interest groups (Women, youth, persons with disability and Biashara funds such as Uwezo Fund).
"If we can make the IEBC Act responsive to these critical elements of representation, - equal weight of the vote and fair representation, we shall have served Kenyans and Kenya’s electoral democracy well," he said.
Kiunjuri said that the country had an opportunity before the forthcoming delimitation process to make substantive amendments that allow for realisation of equality of the vote and move towards possible constitutional reforms in the near future.