- Divided commission retreats to the peace of Naivasha to try and patch-up differences and focus on the task ahead
- Explosive matter of ballot printing tender and fate of project team appointed by chair top agenda
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will today hold crucial talks that will make or break it.
The talks have been taken away from the fuming walls of Anniversary Towers, IEBC’s official address, to a retreat in a Naivasha hotel.
All commissioners, Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba and members of the secretariat, specifically departmental heads, will be in attendance.
IEBC finds itself on the spotlight of monumental differences that have seen it plunge into new levels of mistrust, sabotage and sharp divisions among the commissioners and the secretariat.
Top on the agenda is finding ways and means of reconciling the already divided body ahead of next month’s repeat of presidential election.
The commission avers that crucial decisions, including preparations for the presidential elections, cannot be taken unless the fracas within the commission is sorted out.
Part of the agenda is the explosive matter of who will print the ballot papers, signing of contracts with institutions that will provide crucial service during voting, tallying and transmission of results.
“We want to first deal with a few housekeeping issues. We have to sort out the differences once and for all so that we can work. That is our agenda number one.
Secondly is that there are urgent decisions that relate to the October 17 elections that have to be made. Things like ballot papers, contracts for transmission of results and so on must be executed this week,” said a highly placed source within IEBC.
Other sources within the commission also said the fate of a project team picked by Chairman Wafula Chebukati to drive the October 17 elections will be sealed today.
Members of the secretariat attending the meeting have been tasked to guide the commission on the status of various components of the upcoming elections.
But even before the meeting takes off, more trouble for IEBC emerged yesterday after one of the commissioners denied knowledge of the said retreat.
Commissioner Roslyn Akombe said she was not aware of any retreat organised by IEBC.
Another commissioner said tension is building up among the seven commissioners, with pressure building on some of them to drop out.
“Nothing has moved since the court ruling. We discuss issues in the commission’s plenary and adopt a resolution, some of us step out to make calls before emerging with different lines of thought,” said a commissioner.
He continued: “We asked the departmental heads to nominate their colleagues with proven track record, integrity and could be trusted.”
Some commissioners are being treated with suspicion and are believed to be continuously leaking information and getting briefs from the Opposition.
“We cannot allow the chair to get directives from outside. We want an internal process and retain the team that handled last month polls,” the commissioner said.
As the commission struggles to swim through political turbulence with President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga asking it to stop their infighting and get down to work, one MP seems to have predicted the situation Kenya currently finds itself in.
The legislator had vehemently rejected the appointment of Chebukati as chair, claiming things would fall apart under his leadership.
During the search of a new IEBC chair following the resignation of Isaack Hassan’s team, the lone voice of Kajiado Central MP Elijah Memusi Kanchory was drowned by a house that had already decided the new boss would be Chebukati.
Like a mad man shouting in a crowded market, Memusi tried to get through his point: “I know because of the tyranny of numbers and certain interests that may be playing around, I am sure a lot of interests will play out.
But let it go on record, in seven months to come, Kenyans will doubt the integrity of the results of the elections, that I opposed the appointment of one (Wafula) Chebukati,” Memusi said.
Days before this sitting, on January 10, Chebukati had walked into Parliament to meet the vetting panel at the mini chambers in County Hall. It is in this meeting that he promised to conduct free and fair elections, by running at least three mock elections before the actual polls.
These were easy promises to make for a man who had three decades experience in law and described as soft spoken and humble. Today that promise is becoming harder and harder to keep, despite being given a second chance to redeem the IEBC.
Chebukati finds himself leading a commission that is under siege, whose infighting is eating away the its only chance to redeem itself.
Being the only lawyer at the commission’s decision-making organ, it is impossible to replace him as the chairman without throwing the country into a constitutional crisis.
The constitution did not foresee a situation where a fresh election cannot be conducted within 60 days after nullification of the presidential poll.
But with the divisions deepening day after day, and the trust in the institution by the public waning, such a situation is not far-fetched. The constitution is silent on what would happen if the IEBC is by any reason unable to conduct the election within the 60 days.
Instead it goes ahead to explain what happens after the fresh election is conducted. This means that the IEBC has no choice but to conduct the election within the set constitutional deadlines.
But therein lies the biggest dilemma. With a divided house, and commissioners fighting to settle personal scores, it will be very difficult to get the commission on the same levels of public approvals that they enjoyed before the August poll.
The IEBC has also lost the political support it enjoyed from the Jubilee Party after it raised concerns that the commission may be infiltrated by opposition sympathisers.