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Anxiety mounts over conduct of party primaries

By - | January 13th 2013
Part of the TNA National Elections Board unveiled last week.

By Oscar Obonyo

KENYA: When former South African Appeal judge Johann Kriegler famously observed the 2007 poll figures were “irretrievably polluted” by the time they got to the national tallying centre, he sought to justify that rigging is a process and not falsification executed on the polling day.

An apprehensive Isaak Hassan, the electoral commission boss, is raising the red flag that rigging may be under way. With virtually all-political parties carrying out their primaries this Thursday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman fears the exercise will be compromised by myriad logistical challenges.

Each of the political parties, for instance, filed nomination rules with IEBC for the purpose of ensuring the same is executed to the letter. But Hassan regrets the politicians have messed themselves up and the entire process by cramming the electoral calendar.

“By pushing the deadlines of defections and party primaries, politicians have compromised the credibility of the final exercise and placed us under undue pressure. What time, for instance, do we have to verify candidates’ particulars as well as ensure parties comply with their own nomination rules?” queries Hassan.

Human rights lawyer Harun Ndubi warns that chaotic nominations pose the biggest threat to democracy as “people may be persuaded to vote along patterns other than the norm out of sheer protest”.

Mass defections

One only needs to reflect on victims of the 2007 chaotic primaries, who bounced back, to comprehend Hassan and Ndubi’s concerns. Among the resilient politicians who quickly defected to new outfits after “losing”, include Sports Assistant Minister Kabando wa Kabando, Mathira MP Ephraim Maina, and Siakago MP Lenny Kivuti, who switched from PNU to Safina, Assistant minister Richard Onyonka and former Sports minister Hellen Sambili, who switched from ODM to PDP and UDM.

Assistant minister Wavinya Ndeti and Kitui West Central MP Charles Nyamai equally made it to Parliament after ditching ODM-Kenya, after their “loss”. But what makes the situation grave for aspirants is that this time, their fate may be sealed on “losing” the primaries – thanks to new constitutional dictates.  

The Kriegler-led commission set up to probe the botched 2007 presidential polls noted the electoral crisis was due to systemic dysfunction of the entire electoral system. Kriegler recommended a raft of radical changes, including overhauling the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya.

Although efforts were made to streamline the electoral system, including institutionalising political parties as per the recommendations of Kriegler, Hassan regrets that most of them have not been done. 

“For instance, the Bill on leadership and integrity, which we participated in crafting, is completely different from its original form. As part of their vetting, the MPs pulled out among other requirements, the need for a tax clearance certificate, certificate good conduct and a clearance certificate from the anti-corruption agency,” says Hassan.      

While appreciating that Kriegler made “healthy observations based international electoral standards”, constitutional lawyer Martin Oloo says when applied to the local situation the same failed flat.

Poll rigging

“Unfortunately, Kenyan politicians will always do their thing the way they know best – the ‘Kenyan way’,” says Oloo, a parliamentary aspirant in Kakamega County. The lawyer-cum-politician is categorical that politicians cannot preside over a free and fair exercise. Noting that political parties are membership organisation with both collective and individual interests, he observes that rigging is part of the norm in safeguarding political power.

Unfortunately the primaries will be presided over by the politicians themselves, a factor that makes Oloo and hundreds of aspirants across the country, totally apprehensive. 

Joint Government Chief Whip Johnstone Muthama points at selfish interests of politicians as the factor that has impeded the promotion of a free and fair electoral process. He particularly blames Parliament and the Executive, for “deliberately delaying” the process of setting up a Police Service Commission and in effect the appointment of a new Inspector General of Police.

Spirit of Constitution

Going by the ugly scenes of 2008, he says a new police boss should have been in office at least two years ahead of the polls: “But now (David) Kimaiyo comes in just two months to the elections when it is too late to engineer any meaningful reorganisation. I think they have systematically set him up for failure.” 

Citing the series of massacres in Tana Delta region, Baragoi where over 40 armed police officers were gunned down and elsewhere in the country, Muthama fears the police force may be ill-prepared for the task awaiting them ahead. 

“Sometimes I get this feeling that these tragic events may be engineered, with the primary purpose of sending out a message to the rest of the world that mass murders are the norm in our country. This could also set the stage for more terrifying episodes in March,” warns the MP.

Ndubi says Speaker of National Assembly, Kenneth Marende, is equally culpable: “He has the mandate to stop unconstitutional Bills or those that go against the spirit of the Constitution from being debated in Parliament. And although the Political Parties and Elections acts were enacted to give parties and electoral bodies the necessary teeth to enhance democracy, he allowed several amendments on the same laws.”

Regrettably, the lawyer points out the over three amendments were carried out not to strengthen, but weaken the acts. Ndubi also holds the President responsible for assenting into the law the flawed legislation.

The lawyer accuses Registrar of Political Parties Lucy Ndung’u of complacency and “doing the bidding of political parties instead of regulating them.”

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