Proposed changes to the electoral body just under two years to the general elections, have ignited debate on the country’s record in setting up the commission and whether it will get it right this time round.
If proposals by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report are adopted, the 2022 General Election will be the seventh since multi-party elections, where changes on poll agency are effected just before casting the vote.
The role of the political class has come into question since the advent of the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) which comprised Kanu, DP, Ford Kenya, Ford Asili and Safina in 1997.
- 1 Boniface Mwangi: BBI not about Raila, Ruto or Uhuru
- 2 We’ll not rest till we stop BBI reggae, say activists
- 3 Why William Ruto is cornered
- 4 No more room for fresh views on BBI, Raila tells Muslim leaders
That agreement would later give rise to the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) that presided over the 2002 and 2007 elections.
Under the chairmanship of the late Samuel Kivuitu, the group would be replaced with that headed by Isaac Hassan after the bungled 2007 poll, only for the latter to also be kicked out of office in 2017 after yet another contested election in 2013.
The Hassan-led team was removed from office following sustained demonstrations by the opposition alleging election fraud, leading to formation of the joint parliamentary select committee on IEBC affairs that sealed their fate.
The selection panel – consisting nine members drawn from the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) which had four, one from NCCK, one from SUPKEM, one from the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, Hindu Council and one from the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops – did the recruitment and forwarded the nominees to President Uhuru Kenyatta who transmitted the same to Parliament for vetting and adoption.
The majority of the selection panel were political players.
Amendments to the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Act passed by Parliament two weeks ago, awaiting presidential assent, also proposes a selection panel that consist of two men and women nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC), one by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and two by the inter-religious council of Kenya.
The BBI report reinforces the same, seeking an overhaul of the commission, which has three commissioners – Wafula Chebukati (chairman), Abdi Guliye, and Boya Molu.
Four commissioners – Paul Kurgat, Corney Nkatha, Margaret Mwachanya and Roselyne AKombe – resigned after the divisive 2017 polls. Kurgat, Nkatha and Mwachanya have since been nominated to diplomatic positions.
However, the elephant in the room on the management of the electoral body is whether the referendum route or the parliamentary initiative is the best way to sort the current mess.
Already, Chebukati has faulted the BBI report that seeks to have senior staff at IEBC vetted and a new commission put in place within 60 days after the proposals are adopted.
“The commission should start on a clean slate to strengthen faith in IEBC. All IEBC staff should be employed on a three-year contract, renewable only once, and only if their performance is good,” reads the Steering Committee report to be officially unveiled tomorrow at Bomas of Kenya by President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Mr Chekubati is crying foul, as per the statement released on Friday.
He now faults the BBI report that seeks to reform the IEBC and accused the political class of propagating the onslaught against the commissioners.
Constitutional expert Bobi Mkangi and political expert at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga university of Science and Technology Dr Samuel Okuro argued that much will not be achieved if the process is still left to the political players.
“When parliamentary political parties still play a key role in the recruitment of commissioners, we will still face the same chaos witnessed in 2017. Politicians are not the only stakeholders in the electoral process, there is the right of voters and independent candidates,” said Mkangi.
Dr Okuro said it is no secret that only the 2002 election was credible.
“This is not a job for interviews but for people with the highest integrity that stand to lose greatly if they mismanage elections as is the case with Brazil and India. It needs people with experience and capacity who can sacrifice and remain independent. This was the essence of the IPG,” he said.
National Assembly Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) chairman Jeremiah Kioni and Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr faulted the process of involving the political class in selecting the team.
Kilonzo Jnr said IEBC chapter needs improvement as vetting of staff and getting other commissioners will not solve the perennial issues with dispute of election results.
“I disagree with the proposal to have the electronic management and manual management in the same sentence. We must embrace technology. Brazil has 107 million voters registered biometrically. It is a continent. The only manual thing in their elections is punching in the candidates and results are out in two hours,” he said.
ODM Political Affairs Secretary and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said IEBC, as currently constituted, has lost credibility and must be overhauled.
“There are no two ways about it. Those resisting are simply living in denial,” said Wandayi.
Kioni said: “I don’t think the commissioners are the problem. The courts exonerated the commission in the 2017 election dispute. If after every subsequent election the scenario is the same, then the problem is elsewhere,” he said.
The Ndaragua MP said they have missed the point in the past and the proposals by BBI are only aggravating the problem.
Former Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando said the team that presided over the shambolic 2017 election, both presidential and other levels, should be probed on the collective and individual conduct prior, during and after election. “We need a total overhaul at IEBC and new fully independent commissioners appointed, not party listed. The proposal to make chairman executive is most fitting,” he said.
The next election will be the third after promulgation of the 2010 Constitution without full implementation of the reforms recommended in a report by the Independent Electoral Review Commission on the General Election held on December 27, 2007, popularly known as the Kriegler Commission.