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Nightmare of 40 independent candidates eyeing State House

Independent Candidate Forum of Kenya presidential candidate Reuben Kagame leads other members from across the country as they protest IEBC demands from independent candidates. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has scheduled a pre-nomination meeting with independent presidential aspirants tomorrow amid fears of a rising number of presidential hopefuls – a development that could pose logistical, financial and security nightmare in the delivery of credible polls in August.  

 Fifty-four aspirants– 40 of who are unattached to any political party or coalition – want to occupy the highest office in the land. Should they all be cleared by IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, in his capacity as presidential election returning officer, the ballot paper will be the longest in Kenya’s electoral history.

This comes with a lot of concerns, including confusion among voters, time taken per voter in the polling booth and increased size and number of voting material, which could substantially swell the IEBC budget.

Confirming tomorrow’s meeting, gospel artist Reuben Kigame, who is one of those eyeing the presidency as an independent candidate, told The Sunday Standard that they looked forward to direction from the electoral body officials on how to navigate through the new nomination process.    

Source of concern

Nonetheless, the rising number of independent aspirants has become a major source of concern among political players and the general public. In fact, early this month, the Deputy President William Ruto-allied Kenya Kwanza Alliance raised the red flag over the issue, claiming it was a plan hatched by government to benefit Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition, which enjoys the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking in Nyamira, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi said: “Some of the independent contenders are projects of dividing the presidential votes for Ruto. This is because it has never been thought that there could be so many candidates vying for the top seat as independents in our electoral history.”

The assertion by Musalia was quickly dismissed by independent candidates, who insisted they were non-aligned politicians merely struggling against stringent measures in order to stay afloat. IEBC officials, including Chebukati, have also since explained that they are yet to vet the aspirants. 

Conceding the current scenario could cause a logistical quagmire on August 9, Kigame argues that the current Jubilee administration is partly responsible for the resultant consequences.

“This is precisely what you get when you have bad leadership. The enthusiasm of many Kenyans to offer themselves for the position of the country’s CEO is a direct reflection of the bad leadership we have experienced over the last 10 years,” argues the gospel artist turned politician.

Nonetheless, Rarieda MP Dr Otiende Amollo argues that the development is a good sign for democracy: “The Constitution allows all to participate in elections by offering themselves as candidates and by exercising the right to vote. And as long as one meets the set out regulations – no matter their overall number – he or she must not be elbowed from the poll exercise.” 

Pointing out that political parties are private clubs, which are entitled to set their own operational rules and which have the ultimately decision on who vies for which seat, the constitutional lawyer explains that the introduction of independent candidature in the 2010 Constitution as an avenue geared to accord all opportunity to exercise their democratic right.

The MP, a member of the defunct Committee of Experts (CoE), however, states that an aspiring presidential candidate must be able to demonstrate that he or she has substantial stake and political support base, enough to justify major related political risks like the elections being postponed in the unfortunate scenario of a candidate or running mate losing life before the polling day. 

It is for this and other reasons, including the risks of ending up with a congested and expensive presidential ballot, that Parliament has tightened the rules for independent candidates. Kigame, for instance, protests at the requirements which he summarily describes as stringent and expensive.

“The collection of signatures from voters as well as other paperwork is time consuming and capital intensive. This makes it really hard for those without campaign staff and teams or those who may be struggling financially,” confesses Kigame.

This reality is epitomised by Nixon Kukubo, who has twice offered himself for the presidency before enactment of the 2010 Constitution and now this year. Conceding it was previously “much easier” to make it to the ballot, Kukubo laments that currently, the situation is tougher: “Why, for instance, do they want us to append photocopies of supporters’ identification cards?”

Although he has not had a realistic chance of winning the poll, let alone registering over one per cent of the votes cast, Kukobo insists that he is a “serious contender” just like Azimio candidate Raila Odinga, with whom he proudly states he has contested against twice: “Why is everyone trying to mock me for the consistent attempts at the ballot. Even Raila has been at it four times and this will be the fifth. This is a continuous struggle and I will also keep trying until I succeed.” 

Kukubo insists staying in the race, equating the scenario to a soccer player on the pitch: “Even in a football game, sometimes a kick can be deflected onto your leg and into the net. So, who knows – I might just score a win one of these days.”

Yesterday, a senior IEBC official confided to The Sunday Standard that officers at the electoral body were ready to implement the measures revised by Parliament pointing out that many of the hopefuls might be knocked off from the race.

Round-the-clock security

“Besides the measures in place, which are fairly stringent, we notice from enquiries by some of the aspirants to our offices that others do not meet even the basic and clearest requirements such as a university degree. I have a hunch that by the time we go to the polls on August 9, that list would have been whittled down to a much smaller number,” said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not officially authorised to speak to the media.

Existing electoral laws require each of the candidates and their running mate to be accorded round-the-clock security, with officers assigned to protect them from the date of clearance by IEBC to the conclusion of the poll exercise. And in line with provisions of Article 138(8b) of the Constitution, should any of the presidential candidates or their running mates die, the August 9th election will be called off and a new date set.

 The requirement of a maximum of two agents per candidate per each polling room would also cram the rooms – usually average-size classrooms that can hardly accommodate poll 110 agents, let alone IEBC poll officials and voters. 

 Dismissed by some as attention-seekers who are punching above their weight, some have maintained a presence in the contest without an impact. Yet others are presumably persuaded by prestige and the public status that comes with the reference of “presidential candidate”.