This vote is for us, show in debates that we matter

Tuesday October 10 2017

A long queue of voters who turned up at Ruthimitu Secondary School polling station in Dagoretti South, Nairobi on August 8, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

A long queue of voters who turned up at Ruthimitu Secondary School polling station in Dagoretti South, Nairobi on August 8, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

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Regional and international alarm came first. Followed, this week, by growing alarm internally that without political leadership and compromise, the repeat poll will not take place as planned on October 26.

The problem is that no one expected the Supreme Court ruling of September 1. Which means that everybody has been reacting on the fly. Not strategically and certainly not with a thought to immediate, mid- or long-term consequences.

This in turn means the emotional responses have been unhelpful in marshalling us — parties, IEBC, civil society and us citizens for that matter, because the vote is by, for and about us — towards the constitutional deadline.

But the citizens are not at fault. According to an opinion poll conducted by Infotrak between September 8 and 9, majority of Kenyans — 76.7 per cent — were satisfied with the Supreme Court ruling.

The point is this: Citizens were told aggrieved parties should use the courts, and they did and were initially pleased.

So citizens are not to blame for rising political temperature or the growing sense of alarm.

Sensible Kenyans are clear: they expect the IEBC and political parties to ensure the October 26 poll takes place — credibly — without any upset to citizens’ safety, security and livelihoods, as well as the economy and country writ large.

The question here is whether or not the political leadership — particularly in the Executive — is listening.

As long as the incumbent is in the position he’s in, he has to act like a Head of State. He has to stop dragging the entire state into his machinations as a partisan contestant. The state has to act in the public interest.

The good news is that the IEBC did, this past week, finally meet with both parties. Jubilee came out of the meeting content, with no pending issues to address and should therefore withdraw its proposed amendments to the Election Laws and Election Offenses Acts forthwith.

Second, removing the safeguard on manual counting and transmission that mandatory electronic transmission was intended to afford us. Third, enabling (rather than preventing) continued conflation of the state and the incumbent.

The political opposition came out discontent. They continue to demand the removal of IEBC Commissioners, staff and IT sub-contractors. We can understand why, but we are also aware that it might not be feasible now. What sensible Kenyans should therefore ask is what checks on these people would be enough of a compromise for the political opposition to go to the fresh poll assured of fairness?

We are talking about a demand for accountability, which the Director of Public Prosecutions has promised. In the public interest he needs to expedite and make publicly known the status of the investigations he ordered into the IEBC further to the Supreme Court judgement. He should expedite the laying of charges — so that there are grounds for if not suspension, then recusement — or, at the very least, deterrence — going forward.

To reiterate. We need political leadership and compromise. More is expected in this regard of the incumbent — whose powers outweigh those of the opposition.

We have to show that there will be accountability, as much for ourselves, as citizens, as it is for the opposition. The vote is by, for and about us. Let’s not let this debate take place as though we don’t matter.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the African director for the Open Society Foundations Network based in London, the UK. This column is written in her personal capacity.