How will beleaguered Kenya's electoral body hold $116m poll?

Saturday September 9 2017

As Kenya's electoral commission, IEBC, chairman

As Kenya's electoral commission, IEBC, chairman Wafula Chebukati (left) seeks answers over annulled election, the CEO Ezra Chiloba reveals the secretariat is proceeding with plans for October 17 poll duel. PHOTOS | NMG 

By ERICK ODUOR
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By ALLAN OLINGO
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Kenya’s electoral commission has plunged into a crisis, even as it starts preparations for a fresh presidential election in line with a Supreme Court’s decision that invalidated the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Deep divisions within the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) put the repeat election in jeopardy, with decision-making having almost collapsed as commissioners either oppose or contradict each other in public.

In the run-up to August 8 elections, all decisions of the commission were made by consensus, but the divisions pitting chairman Wafula Chebukati and two commissioners on one side, and four other commissioners who seem to be backing the embattled secretariat on the other, there is hardly any progress at Anniversary Towers, the commission’s headquarters.

Tension peaked after a leaked internal memo from Mr Chebukati to the commission’s secretary and chief executive Ezra Chiloba demanded answers on issues that could have led to the invalidation of President Kenyatta’s win by the highest court in the land.

Four commissioners have opposed the approach by the chairman, stating that the issues he is demanding answers for have never been discussed in their meetings as required by law.

The leaked memo was a culmination of turf wars pitting the two senior IEBC officials since the Supreme Court cited massive irregularities and illegalities in the last election.

'Am not sidelined'

In an exclusive interview with The EastAfrican, Mr Chiloba said that the secretariat is looking at the issues raised in the memo and will respond in the interest of the public.

“We will provide proper answers and explanations on the same. The commissioners have issued a response with regards to this memo and I don’t think it should now be a big deal for now,” Mr Chiloba said.

Commissioners Consolata Maina, Yakub Guliye, Paul Kurgat and Boya Molu have come to the rescue of Mr Chiloba, who has been in the eye of a storm since the polls annulment.

Mr Chebukati has formed a team to conduct the repeat presidential election, sidelining the CEO. But Mr Chiloba says he does not feel sidelined.

“I wouldn’t want to look at it like the chairman has sidelined me in any way,” he told The EastAfrican.

“The team cannot work without the rest of us. We have more than 800 people working at IEBC and these team needs support. From where I seat, this is a good idea, and we need to ensure that we ensure they are well facilitated and supported so as to give their best for the country,” he said, declining to reveal who will be the face of the secretariat in the October election.

The commission is divided down the middle on how it will handle the repeat election, with four commissioners opposing the move.

But, according to Mr Chiloba, preparations for the election is well on course, and the commission has requested the Treasury for the funds. A week to the August elections, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich assured the country that funds had been set aside for a presidential rerun.

'Constitutional crisis'

The commission has not held meetings, as the tension between the two officials have also split the commission, with Mr Chebukati getting the support of only two commissioners out of six. 

But President Kenyatta’s party has come up with its own list of secretariat staff it wants fired by the commission, saying that it has information that they are partisan.

In a letter to the commission, Raphael Tuju, Jubilee Party secretary-general, said the party had information that nine employees are sympathetic to the National Super Alliance.

The internal wrangles aside, the two presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, who will face-off at the repeat elections, have taken strong positions that cast doubt on the credibility of the October 17 polls.

While Mr Odinga Odinga has called for postponement of the polls to pave the way for consultations on the election day, President Kenyatta has hit the ground running, urging Kenyans to re-elect him on the date proposed by the electoral commission, October 17.

According to the Constitution, a presidential candidate can be declared the winner if others do not participate in the election.  

Nasa on Friday warned that the country is headed for a constitutional crisis if the commission cannot get its act together to ensure election is held within the stipulated time.

“We are staring at a constitutional crisis, because I don’t think this commission can conduct elections in 60 days. The consequences are too grave to contemplate,” said Norman Magaya, head of the Nasa secretariat.