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MPs set rivalry aside to push for poll date change

By Alphonce Shiundu | March 1st 2015

The leadership of the National Assembly has agreed to push for a national constitutional referendum to have the next elections held in December 2017.

But the team was sharply divided on how to deal with the electoral commission, whose commissioners are facing the sack in what the country’s Opposition says is their incompetence in the handling of the 2013 General Election.

In what is likely to be the first time that the bitter rivals — the Opposition’s CORD and the ruling Jubilee coalition — will agree on one thing, the House bosses have thrown in a sweetener: MPs will be paid millions for their “unexpired term”.

The vice chairperson of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, Ms Priscillah Nyokabi (Nyeri, TNA), and David Ochieng’ (Ugenya, ODM) rallied the Speaker, his deputy, the majority and minority leaders plus the rest of the chairpersons in backing the proposal for the change of the poll date.

Mr Ochieng’ is a member of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee and the sponsor of the Bill to shift the date to December.

The MPs said the budget cycle would be interrupted and the school calendar disrupted if the polls are held on the second Tuesday of August in the fifth year as prescribed in the Constitution.

Speaker Justin Muturi said that if the polls are held in August, then there will be no House to approve the 2017 Budget, which has to be approved in June.

The financial year expires on June 30 every year, and a new budget has to be ready by then.

“It is not a matter of the current Parliament trying to extend its life. It is a matter that should be looked at realistically,” said Muturi.

The decision to push the date was arrived at in a meeting held at the  Serena Beach Resort in Mombasa, in which the leaders also toyed with the idea of trying to change the Supreme Law to open a window that will make it easy for them to amend it quickly in the event of a national crisis.

The House leaders said it will be difficult to amend the Constitution as it is right now in case of a crisis and that the only option will be to have it suspended.  

Extended term

Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township), Nyokabi and Ochieng’ painted scenarios that if the polls are held on the second Tuesday of August, the results will be out a week later (going by the experience in the last polls), then if there is a run-off (within a month), and the run-off is contested (after two weeks) or if just close to the elections a presidential candidate dies and the polls are postponed for 60 days, there will be no commissioners to deal with a fallout as only the secretariat will be left.

December elections will see the term of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration, plus the term of members of county assemblies, extended by five more months. This will however be three months shy of the full five-year term.

The MPs argue that because they were elected for a five-year term, the August elections in 2017 will put a dent in their pockets and therefore, they have to be “compensated”. The High Court has already ruled that the 2017 polls will be in August.

“We will definitely be in a lot of trouble with the budget cycle and the IEBC will not have sufficient resources that year to conduct elections. There will be a fair amount of disruption to the school programmes. The date in August is really a difficult one for the country,” said Nyokabi.

It will cost the taxpayer at least Sh1.2 billion to pay the MPs, but with governors, the President, MCAs and other government officials whose tenure depends on government like Cabinet secretaries, in the mix, the Bill may be three times more.

But for Duale, changing the election date was not as big a priority as extending the term of the IEBC commissioners.

“It is very clear that whether we do the elections in August or December, the life of the current IEBC must be extended one way or the other,” he said.

CORD Deputy Whip Chris Wamalwa (Kiminini, Ford Kenya) said the parties have to agree on who will handle the polls competently.

“If we have elections in August, the current commissioners will not have ample time to work on a run-off. It is indeed important in the spirit of teamwork that both Jubilee and CORD have a referee who is acceptable to both sides,” he said.

That view was supported by the chairman of the committee on Delegated Legislation, William Cheptumo (Baringo North, URP), who argued that the changes have to be done early.

“We have to realise there’s a problem. As a country we have always waited until the last minute then we rush our issues. I support the issue of December 2017,” said Cheptumo.

The vice chairman of the Transport and Public Works Committee Mohamed Mahamud (Mandera West) added: “Let the elections be held in December. We cannot go to elections with a new commission, we should have their term extended. Let us deal with the date first, then deal with the issue of the commissioners.”

Jubilee MPs argued that the commission that reviewed the botched 2007 polls led by South African Judge Johannes Kriegler concluded the term of the electoral commission should never expire in an election year. The commissioners must have been in office for at least two years.

“The current commission that we have is the easiest solution,” said Nyokabi. As the MPs deliberated whether to kill the commission or extend its life, the IEBC commissioners and staff were holed up in an adjacent room sprucing up their strategic plan in readiness for the next polls.

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