Fears of major split at IEBC as Chebukati walks out of critical meeting

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. (Photo: Edward Kiplimo/Standard)

The Independent, Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati walked out of a tense commission meeting on Wednesday after differing with his colleagues, it has emerged.

Sources say Mr Chebukati was chairing a plenary meeting of the commission at the Anniversary Towers to deliberate the impact of Raila Odinga’s withdrawal from the October 26 race.

However, after a lengthy haggling, the chairman ‘excused himself’ and left the meeting saying he had other commitments and asked CEO Ezra Chiloba to summarise what they had discussed and communicate to the country.

Shortly after leaving, commissioners Roselyn Akombe and Margaret Mwachanya followed him, leaving the other four behind.

“Looks like the chairman was frustrated and didn’t want to own the decision of the plenary,” a source at IEBC said.

This happened even as other reports emerged that gazettement of presidential candidates following the High Court ruling failed to be effected after Chebukati allegedly refused to sign it off.

Under pressure

Confronted with this allegation, the chairman declined to comment.

Chebukati would not comment on any of the questions posed to him except to say, “I don’t want to comment, you are reading too much.”

The Saturday Standard has credible information that Chebukati had introduced a proposal to change the elections date from October 26, a move that was rejected by all the other six commissioners.

Chebukati had sought to peg his argument on Raila’s move to withdraw from the elections and the 2013 Supreme Court opinion which opined that if one candidate withdraws or dies before elections, IEBC should organise fresh polls in 90 days.

But the commissioners opposed Chebukati, saying his suggestion could not hold because Odinga’s withdrawal was irregular in the first place because he had not signed Form 24A. 

Commissioner Akombe responded thus: “In my communication, the elections are at the polling station. All commissioners are supposed to visit various regions to ensure everything is in place for the October 26th polls.”

Different scripts

Dr Akombe continued: “The commissioners will be out for five days but the chairman will not be out for that long.”

The commission later that evening emerged to declare that the election date would remain and that Odinga’s resignation was irregular. 

It was reported that Chebukati had relied heavily on an opinion he had sought from a city lawyer; who gave him two options; either to call for fresh election or proceed with the 26th date but include all the other candidates who participated in the August polls.

As the discussions neared closure, Chebukati walked out leaving his colleagues to come up with a statement that was sent to the media at about 8pm.

Unlike in other statements, which bear either the name of Chebukati or Chiloba, the unsigned statement did not bear any name.

“It’s not true that the chairman walked out on us; he had other engagements and thus excused himself while directing that the CEO puts together a summary of what we discussed,” Commissioner Paul Kurgat said Friday.

On the issue of unsigned statement, Prof Kurgat said it might have been an ‘oversight’ on the part of the Secretariat.

The incident highlights the split in the commission with just 12 days to the repeat polls with insiders painting a picture of a body whose 7-member team do not read from the same script.

And perhaps in what signals Chebukati’s frustration, on Thursday he wrote a memo saying he will be out of office for five days from Friday to Tuesday.

“The chairman wrote a memo saying he will be in Western and North Rift for five days to supervise the ongoing preparations for the fresh elections. Everything was processed by close of business on Thursday to facilitate his travel,” a source at the commission said.

Tight schedule

The chairman is supposed to tour Western and North Rift while Akombe is already doing the same in Nairobi County.

The two are set to leave for Dubai on Monday to lead the team that will include journalists, civil society, religious groups and presidential candidates representatives.

By yesterday, there were earlier indication that the commission was yet to gazette Thirdway Alliance Presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot as directed by the High Court on Wednesday. They however, did gazetted seven names excluding that of Cyrus Jirongo because he was bankrupt.

The commission is yet to publish a corrigendum as directed by Justice John Mativo even as Mr Aukot was at the Anniversary Towers to protest at IEBC’s plan to rely on his order to invite the other presidential candidates.

Level of preparedness

The Thirdway Alliance leader insisted that the court’s directive was specific to him being gazetted and not the other candidates.

“We have met the commission and they have taken us through preparations they have put in place.  We asked that they put it in writing and send to us and now we are retreating to our party headquarters to interrogate that and we may come back here,” Aukot told journalists after the two-hour meeting.

Yesterday, the commission defended its decision to stick to Al Ghurair after an attempt to out source UNDP was thwarted by Jubilee and NASA’s outright rejection.

Dr Akombe said they were ready for the repeat exercise, she also expressed fears that the current environment may be difficult for the conduct of the exercise.

“If I were asked today whether the commission is ready the answer would be yes but the question is whether the environment and conditions are conducive for the commission to conduct a free, fair and credible election,” she said.