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ODM should not cry foul now over Chebukati and the IEBC

By Kamotho Waiganjo | August 21st 2021

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

By most accounts, the current IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati has been an uninspiring disappointment. Nothing exposes the tardiness of the chairperson than the goings on at Anniversary Towers in the 2017 elections, most of which were laid bare at the presidential petition proceedings.

The eventual departure of fellow commissioners and senior officers, including the Chief Executive Officer, and the complaints about his handling of the Commission are on record.

Insiders also allege he is politically partisan, though I wouldn’t give that much gravitas; that is a label liberally allocated without evidence on any head of African electoral management bodies. To his credit, the Commission has redeemed some of its reputation in by-elections, which have so far proceeded reasonably well.

But despite his inadequacies, the “Chebukati must go” calls from sections of ODM must be treated with disdain.

Firstly, we are less than one year to the elections. This is the wrong time to change the principal leadership at the IEBC. It is bad enough that we are appointing four new commissioners less than a year to the elections. The secretariat, critical in running a credible election, remains in disarray with serious gaps in its managerial echelons.

Ezra Chiloba’s substantive replacement is yet to be appointed. Any chairperson coming into office after this will barely have settled before we are in the midst of what promises to be a vigorously contested General Election. One of the recommendations from the 2008 Kriegler Commission was that the electoral body should not be changed a year to elections.

Secondly, the calls for Chebukati’s ouster arise from a misunderstanding about the capacity of the chair to distort an election, even if he was personally compromised, if the rest of the Commission is credible.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

My assumption is that ODM, being co-owners of the current government, will ensure that the fresh team at the IEBC is beyond capture. That should be sufficient guarantee against the chairperson’s misdeeds, assuming there will be any.

It must, however, be noted that elections are now so decentralised that they are generally compromised far away from the numerous witnesses and observers in Nairobi. What should worry anyone concerned about the distorting of elections is the character of Presiding and Returning officers in the villages, not the team at Nairobi.

Thirdly, and most important, this haranguing of key State officers and removal from office outside the constitutional prescriptions is just how we ended up with lackluster Chebukati. Most credible candidates shied away from this top job because they knew that sooner or later their “must go” moment would arise without the need for the accusers substantiating any allegations against them.

The reason why the Constitution prescribed a process of removing unsuitable State officers was precisely to avoid the public lynching now common on IEBC chairpersons.

If ODM has substantive complaints against the chair, then the appropriate thing would be to commence appropriate proceedings for his removal immediately they got into bed with Jubilee. Even that option is not available this late in the day.

Finally, for a party literally in government, a party which has every possibility of forming the next government these calls are out of tune. Roundi hii, ODM has a stake in ensuring the elections are seen to be credible.

Allegations of impropriety poison the electoral environment and contaminate a win. ODM must now operate as an incumbent with every possibility of a win come 2022.

It must then speak the language of restraint, unless of course the party believes that even with the support of their traditional base, the marriage with Jubilee, the climb up the mountain and “ownership” of “the system”, they are destined to lose.

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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