As the political tempo rises ahead of the August 9 General Election, six senior government officials hold the key to a successful, credible, fair and peaceful transition.
From the party nomination process, cleaning of voter resister, clearing of candidates, technology, security and internet connectivity, these individuals hold Kenya’s destiny in the next six months.
They will also superintend the actual election, tallying and declaration of results. More than 22 million voters will go to the ballot to elect candidates for 1,883 positions, including a new President, Deputy President, governors, senators, MPs, MCAs and woman representatives.
Given that Kenya’s elections are rigorous, emotive, ethnic oriented and aggressive, the role of the polls agency, regulators, Judiciary and security agents cannot be gainsaid.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati, Registrar of Political Parties (RPP) Anne Nderitu, Communications Authority of Kenya director-general Ezra Chiloba are critical.
Chief Justice Martha Koome, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and Data protection commissioner Immaculate Kassait will also play a critical role before and after the election.
Their actions while discharging their duties will impact the credibility of the polls. This will be the second election that will have Chebukati at the helm of IEBC. His commission has completed the second and final registration of voters this week and asked interested companies to present themselves for a tender to audit the voter register.
In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election was nullified by the Supreme Court because the process, according to then Chief Justice David Maraga, had not been “conducted in accordance with the Constitution.”
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One of the reasons for nullification was that the IEBC conceded it did not use the electronic transmission system as required by law and instead relied on text messages and photographs of manually filled forms as sources of information. Chebukati faces a tough test of ensuring this election will be simple, transparent and verifiable. Nderitu’s office is mandated to oversee political parties' nomination which in the past has triggered legal battles arising from candidates dissatisfied with results. Most disputes are handled by the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal (PPDT).
The amended Political Parties Act gave RPP powers to determine who belongs to which party and therefore can contest which position.
Nderitu will have great influence in ensuring thousands of aspirants vying for different seats belong to the said parties.
Chiloba’s office is mandated to license all systems and services in the communications industry, including telecommunications, postal, courier and broadcasting and managing the frequency spectrum and numbering resources.
On Tuesday, Chiloba directed media houses to ensure objectivity in their broadcasts. “As the country approaches the 2022 General Election, the Authority wishes to remind broadcasters of their obligation in respect to the responsible use of the broadcasting platform as articulated in the Code, Broadcasting Regulations, and the ICT Sector law,” Chiloba wrote to television and radio stations.
Standard of broadcast
The Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA CAP411A), mandates the Authority to set out standards for the time and manner of programmes to be broadcast.
This role is crucial in that, Chiloba is expected to ensure connectivity across the country for relaying of election results across the 51,000 expected polling stations. In 2017, hundreds of polling stations could not provide results on time.
The new amendment to the Election Act proposing to ban live coverage of election results thrust Chiloba into the heart of the process given that he will be tasked to ensure that provision is implemented.
Kassait, a former IEBC director, was sworn in as Kenya’s first data protection commissioner to actualise the Data Protection Act, 2019.
Under her docket is the regulation of social media, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, accountable to Kenyan laws. Kassait’s office has the power to investigate a complaint made by a data subject or a third party and impose administrative fines.
Since the 2017 elections, IEBC has not opened its servers to give Kenyans the results and it will be the role of the Data Protection commissioner to keep such information.
The commission also has the authority to facilitate conciliation, mediation and negotiation on disputes arising from the Act, issue summons to a witness for purposes of investigation, and require any person subject to the Act to provide information.
For Mutyambai, ensuring a peaceful election is a litmus test on his term that is supposed to end next year. During the election period, he will command a force manning the 51,000 polling stations.
How he conducts the task will be the highlight of his tenure and any commission or omission on his part will define his legacy. In the past, former police commissioner Major Gen Hussein Ali battled a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his handling of the 2007 elections.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo charged Major Gen Ali and two other suspects with five counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles.
CJ Koome will offer refuge to those seeking legal redress.