All eyes are on electoral agency to ensure it delivers a credible election

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [File, Standard]

With less than 25 days to the next general election, Kenyans hope that this time around, all the main stakeholders will work together to deliver free, fair, accountable, and credible elections.

The bodies that must get it right include the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the National Police Service (NPS), the Judiciary and the Transition Committee.

In a recent press conference, IEBC officials asserted that they are ready to preside over the upcoming general election. They contended that they had learned from the external evaluation of the 2017 elections interrogating the Supreme Court's decision that faulted how IEBC conducted the polls. 

Nevertheless, the chairperson noted that Parliament recently rejected an amendment Bill that would have addressed some of the issues raised in the evaluation process. 

Unfortunately, this means that the matters explicitly raised by the Supreme Court when it annulled the 2017 polls have not, and will not be addressed at a policy level.

Yet, we are deliberately moving forward with the elections. In addition, there are outstanding issues with transmission of results in areas without mobile network coverage, provision of vital data, and access to systems and technology to be deployed.

It comes in the wake of demands by Raila Odinga, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential flagbearer, regarding the use of both the manual and electronic registers. IEBC, on the other hand, insists that it will only use the manual register as a last resort.

They alluded that there is a real possibility of manipulation of votes, especially in strongholds, that could explain the discrepancy highlighted by the Supreme Court on why official tallies indicate that much more people voted for president than the other five positions.

On the bright side, the IEBC is finally properly and fully constituted after the appointment of four Commissioners in September 2021. They replaced the ones who resigned in October 2017, in Roselyn Akombe’s case, and in April 2018 for the other three.

It is noteworthy that it took more than three years to replace the four, which jeopardised IEBC’s legality, functionality, and ability to transact, including preparing for the next elections.

For instance, the High Court and the Court of Appeal invalidated the BBI process, noting that IEBC, the custodian of referendum processes such as verification of signatures, could not transact without a quorum. The Supreme Court overturned this position.

Depending on who you ask, Kenya's last truly credible election was two decades ago in 2002 and two referenda in 2005 and 2010. The rest of the polls have been marred by rigging allegations, violence, death and polarisation.

Be that as it may, we have made strides to improve our democracy, including promulgating a progressive constitution that, on paper, provides for more robust and independent institutions such as courts, the police, political parties, ODPP, IEBC and others. Moreover, it set specific leadership and integrity standards that have remained aspirational, especially regarding elective positions.

This week, the Court of Appeal ordered the IEBC to clear former (impeached) Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko to run for governor of Mombasa based on the rationale that he had not exhausted his avenues of appeal and that there was a pending case at the Supreme Court.

Many view the decision as an insult to the leadership and integrity provisions. However, I believe that the court is attempting to balance the individual rights of Sonko, the right of people to choose who they want and IEBC's role in ensuring that aspirants meet the legal requirements.

For now, we must trust the process while demanding stronger and clearer laws and procedures governing our elections.