Civil society holds 2-day conference on elections

ICJ-K Executive Director Elsy Sainna at the National Civil Society Conference in Nakuru. [Courtesy]

The National Civil Society Conference has called on all relevant actors to urgently embark on interrogating and improving the electoral legal landscape in preparation for the 2027 elections.

Speakers at the two-day conference in Nakuru from June 26-27, which has brought together over 40 key non-state actors, have called for a rigorous analysis of the legal framework on elections.

This is aimed at enhancing integrity, inclusivity and efficiency in the electoral environment to inspire confidence among the people.

The conference, convened jointly by Katiba Institute and the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-K) noted that the 2013, 2017 and 2022 elections were plagued with legal and operational challenges. These include significant difficulties faced by the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Speaking at the opening session of the conference, Katiba Institute Executive Director Christine Nkonge said:

“The last three elections have faced significant challenges that have undermined the confidence of Kenyans in the electoral process. We, as civil society organisations and indeed other actors, must start early engagement with the electoral process to improve the legal landscape ahead of the 2027 elections”.

Ms Nkonge said the last elections recorded the lowest level of participation by the non-state actors, partly due to the effects of Covid-19 and insufficient donor support which came late, late, six months to the Elections, which made little impact on voter education and push for the necessary legal reforms.

She said it was urgent for all actors, both state and non-state to interrogate the overall state of IEBC in terms of its independence, capacity and unity of purpose by the commissioners, the role of the staff and assignment of duties and the various forms of legislation, some of which parliament had failed to enact.

ICJ-K Executive Director Elsy Sainna said it was urgent that the civil society actors rally quickly and engage all other actors to kick off the process of electoral reforms ahead of the 2027 Elections. 

She said it was urgent to identify potential challenges that may affect the presidential elections in 2027 and resolve them early enough to avoid potential instability after the polls.

She said it was important to prioritise pending court cases for completion and implementation, compilation of potential challenges that may plague the next elections and development of effective advocacy strategies to foster public awareness and engagement.

A University of Nairobi law lecturer Evans Ogada told the forum that the fixation in Kenya and other countries with approaching democracy as a “majoritarian” issue was wrong.

Dr Ogada said the practice was changing to democracy being defined by “respect for constitutionalism and the rule of law”.

He said democracy with all its imperfections had the capacity of correcting itself and improving on its failures, progressively. 

“We must consider the calls by various actors including the legal fraternity to amend the law to provide for at least a month to hear and determine the issues arising from presidential elections. The current law providing for 14 days is unworkable,” said Dr Ogada.

He described the IEBC processes and conduct of the 2022 elections as “an untidy mess”, with commissioners pulling apart, challenges in voter registration and failure to deal with voter manipulation through the use of technology as pointed out through among others, the audit by KPMG before the elections.

He also called for robust interrogation of judicial decisions on elections, including the Supreme Court's failure to deal with critical questions that were raised during the presidential petition last year.

The university don blamed Parliament for failing to enact important legislation to guide the elections, adding that MPs had “ganged up to frustrate the passage of election finance law”, in the process, perpetuating the “commoditisation of elections.”

Luciana Thuo, a law lecturer at Kabarak Law School, led the conference in discussing the impact of judgments and import of pending judgements on the 2027 elections.