What happens if running mate withdraws few days to elections?

Charles Owino withdrew as the running mate of Siaya governorship candidate Nicholas Gumbo. [File, Standard]

Former police spokesperson Charles Owino surprised many on Tuesday, May 17, when he withdrew his candidature as Nicholas Gumbo’s running mate in the Siaya gubernatorial race.

It emerged that Owino, who left the Police Service in mid-2021 to pursue political interests, had been recalled to serve as the Director of the Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

His withdrawal from politics left Gumbo, who is running on the United Democratic Movement (UDM) Party, without a running mate.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gave Gumbo 24 hours to find Owino’s replacement.

On Wednesday, the gubernatorial aspirant picked former Standard Group Digital Editor David Ohito, who is also the UDM Secretary-General, as his running mate.

By the time Owino was withdrawing from the Cornel Rasanga-succession race, neither he nor Gumbo had been cleared by the IEBC to vie for the seats.

That made it easy for the electoral agency to ask Gumbo to choose another person.

However, what happens when a governorship pair or a presidential pair have been cleared by the IEBC to run, then a running mate withdraws from the race a few days to the polls?

The Elections Act of 2011 says that a county governor candidate or a political party shall not, at any time, change the person nominated as a deputy county governor candidate after the nomination of that person has been received by the IEBC.

“Provided that in the event of death, resignation or incapacity of the nominated candidate, or of the violation of the electoral code of conduct by the nominated candidate, the political party may substitute its candidate before the date of presentation of nomination papers to the Commission,” the law says.

However, this focuses on aspirants who are yet to get clearance by the IEBC.

Once cleared by the electoral board, and one chooses to drop his or her running mate bid, what happens?

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi says the person running as president or governor will be allowed by the IEBC to choose a replacement, albeit swiftly.

This, he said, would work best if the ballot papers have not been printed.

Mkangi says it would be difficult for the IEBC to bar a candidate from running simply because his or her running mate opted out of the race a few weeks to the elections.

Should the electoral board strike the candidate out, chances are high the aspirant would sue the electoral referee.

“After the formal clearance by IEBC, only death of a presidential candidate or running mate can get the election cancelled. Any other way, like resignation, will leave the candidate reeling and ruing his or her choice because chances are high he or she will lose the race,” he told The Standard.

Should a running mate opt out, Mkangi said: “It would be upon the political party or coalition party to inform the IEBC and see what their [Party] regulations say about such a circumstance,” he said.