Why President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term may last longer

President Uhuru Kenyatta at his swearing-in ceremony in 2013. Delays in reforming IEBC and in resolving other electoral concerns could push back next year’s poll date. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

NAIROBI: The haggling over replacement of electoral commissioners has raised doubts about the country‘s preparedness to conduct a General Election.

This could affect the date of the next poll, meaning that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, and all elected officials – parliamentary and county – could remain in office beyond August 2017.

Ideally, a fully composed commission should be in office for two years prior to the conduct of a general or presidential election, according to the Independent Review Commission, popularly known as Kriegler commission, which investigated the 2007 election crisis.

However, with the looming departure of nine commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and a stalemate on the procedure to pick the new team between the rival coalitions ahead of the August 8, 2017 polls, that timeline has clearly been overshot.

CORD has insisted that new poll commissioners be appointed by political parties according to their parliamentary strength but Jubilee has opposed the move, arguing that to protect the independence of the commission, politicians must be kept away from the recruitment process.

“Political parties must be allowed to appoint members to the commission on the basis of their numerical strength in Parliament. That is how it is done in many places since no one is neutral. We did this with the IPPG (Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group) and the 2002 elections had more credibility,” said ODM Chairman John Mbadi.

However, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who is among Jubilee’s representatives at the parliamentary select committee, yesterday signalled that the ruling coalition would resist that.

“We in Jubilee wouldn’t mind if all the new commissioners are selected from eminent members of the clergy. The country can have a mix of Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other God-fearing religious leaders and we would be satisfied. If CORD leaders reject our two proposals, we are going to ask the current electoral commission to stay in office as constituted,” Mr Kuria said.

The Commission on Administrative Justice also proposed that the appointment of the new commissioners be conducted by a broad-based multi-agency panel rather than political parties for impartiality and professionalism.

Given it is not clear how long it would take to have a new team in place, some have demanded that the elections date be postponed.

Attorney General Githu Muigai on July 20 told MPs to consider pushing back next year’s date to allow proper reconstitution of the electoral commission and adequate preparation.

“We have only 383 days to next year’s elections and the Kriegler Commission recommended an ideal electoral commission to be in place 24 months before an election,” Muigai then said, adding that it would not require a referendum.

However, Otiende Amollo, Chair of the Commission on Administrative Justice, told the committee that any extension of the election date would affect the term of office of the President which would require a referendum as per Article 255 (1) (f) of the Constitution.

“Accordingly, a change of the election date has the potential of plunging the country into a constitutional crisis. In light of the limited time, we recommend that the process of appointment of new IEBC commissioners be fast-tracked, preferably within 60 days once the current commissioners vacate office,” Mr Amollo told the team co-chaired by Senators Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) and James Orengo (Siaya).

“What Parliament should reconsider is changing the election date. Whether you would like to revisit the issue, it is up to you,” Prof Githu said.

Kandara MP Alice Wahome asked Kenyans to brace for a possibility of March 2018 poll, citing differences in selecting a new team.

“It is not possible for Parliament to complete the process of the legislative amendments at this stage. We have about 12 months and it is most likely that the coming General Election will be pushed forward,” Ms Wahome said.

Council of Governors Chairman Peter Munya also suggested to the committee that the polls date be pushed to March 2018, a position articulated earlier by representatives of members of county assemblies. Mr Munya said this would give the new team enough time to prepare.

Integrity concerns

It is a call that has been trumpeted by some Jubilee MPs but opposed by Opposition lawmakers who twice helped shoot down a proposal by one of their own, Ugenya MP David Ochieng, to push the poll date to December.

But apart from the uncertainty on the elections date, other concerns are integrity of the poll register, reliability of electoral equipment and vetting of candidates to enforce strict constitutional requirement on leadership and integrity.

Authorities disclosed that nine million Kenyans are eligible to vote but have not registered as voters. This figure is far higher than 6.1 million votes President Kenyatta, who is seeking a second term in office, secured in the 2013 General Election and 5.3 million garnered by his closest challenger, Raila Odinga.

IEBC intends to list an additional eight million voters by next year in addition to 1.6 million registered earlier this year.

IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba said the new voters will be included after the inspection of the voters register planned for September. The next mass voter registration is expected to start towards the end of the year.

“The idea is to ensure that every eligible Kenyan is given an opportunity to register as a voter and to participate effectively in the coming elections,” said Mr Chiloba. However, the credibility of the voters register is among envisaged changes to the electoral laws, particularly the proposal that the register is published and made public at least 30 days to the elections.

Other reviews to the Elections Act (Amendment) Bill now before Parliament target to clamp down on party hopping.

One advocates the increase of the period for submission of political party constitutions and nomination rules to 180 days to the elections.

The other seeks to extend the time for submission of party membership lists to the commission to 120 days. These changes are not popular with MPs.

With the current Electronic Voter Identification Devices deemed not-fit-for-purpose for the elections, IEBC is in the process of replacing them before the end of this year.

“Equipment should be supplied from competent sources, comprehensive testing undertaken and IEBC staff properly trained,” Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero said.

Demands for strict vetting of candidates have gathered pace lately.

Two institutions critical to the election have been mired in controversy over a transition of leadership. The Judiciary is in the process of replacing retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, former Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal.