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Empower IEBC to tackle poll chaos

OPINION
By Nathan Nayere | March 16th 2021
Some of the 400 sworn data clerks in their workstations during the BBI Supporters Verification Exercise held at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi on 30th December 2020 [Emmanuel Mochoge, Standard]

Despite many lapses in our electoral process, Kenyans have a reason to be proud that the country has always observed elections at regular intervals since independence. This is an important indicator of the democratic structure of our constitution.

This underscores the critical role of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) as an autonomous institution in protecting the practice of democracy during the election of our country’s political leadership.

The very important role of the commission during March 4 by-elections was subjected to a huge test. The helplessness that the commission’s secretariat found itself in in the face of an orgy of violence and open bribery of voters was a threat to the sanctity of the electoral process. It is worrying if nothing is not done about it ahead of the 2022 General Election.

Columnists Barrack Muluka and Houghton Irungu, while commenting on the matter in the March 6 edition of this publication, raised serious issues concerning the morality of our elections and the commissions’ legal inability to protect democracy, the will of the people to vote and threat to the commission’s officials.

The Kabuchai and Matungu constituencies and London Ward by-elections saw a serious breach of IEBC’s code of conduct and constitutional provisions that guide proper conduct of electioneering. Parliament should move to institute further amendments in the electoral laws to empower IEBC commissioners to enjoy the support of the Supreme Court in enforcing the morality of our electoral process and democracy. As it is today, the chairman can do nothing but mourn when hoodlums slap and frogmarch his officers in daylight.

Politicians roam around polling stations with stolen money to influence the election process, bribing and importing thugs to disrupt the exercise. Therefore, it is the right time every effort is made through the legal process to fully decriminalise the elections process through an elections amendment Act.

The amendment will inflict deterrent punishment on crooked politicians and their goons, making it too expensive to abuse or interfere with democratic elections. This will enforce morality in elections by ensuring that individuals with pending criminal charges as well as known convicts are barred from active involvement in the electioneering process. The commission demanded that such individuals be slapped with life bans from contesting or involvement in any electoral activities. IEBC must be fully responsible for enforcing its code of conduct and arraigning politicians and their agents for interference during elections, either through violence, bribery or sponsoring violence. 

During elections, security apparatuses assigned to the commission must come under the direct command of the chairpersons of the electoral process. The electoral commissioner must take charge of the arrests and processing of charges against individuals who subvert the democratic process through violence, rigging and influencing voters through bribery.

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This will ensure that the commission’s code of conduct during electioneering is not a mere suggestion, but enforceable to guarantee fair and democratic elections. The elections amendment would therefore have specific statutory basis and not merely a suggestion or persuasion as it obtains now.

The amendments should also see the commission enforcing legal limits on the amount of money spent by a candidate to influence elections. This can be done by the commission involving Kenya Revenue Authority officials in monitoring a candidate’s assets against the money mobilised through his or her accounts on elections.

Candidates must be compelled to submit an expenditure returns record a month after the declaration of election results. Tracking a candidate’s daily money movement during elections is a key legal element in limiting violence fuelled by bribery during elections. The recruitment of election officials must be transparent and based on competency, not political loyalties.

Career civil servants are some of the best-trained managers. The culture of picking people from NGO or private practice has not been impressive. They are never committed and often maintain dual loyalties with previous employers.

The chairman of IEBC must have powers to order arrest and prosecute and not merely plead for assistance from security agencies to arrest criminals.

Mr Nayere teaches at Daystar University.

 

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