It is rare that an electoral commission gets a second chance to make good on its promise to deliver a free and fair election that reflects the will of voters.
Which is why Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should seize the opportunity presented by the Supreme Court in annulling the presidential election and calling for a fresh one.
Even after declaring that the IEBC had “failed, neglected or refused” to conduct the election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution and the Elections Act; and that the electoral body had “committed irregularities and illegalities, which affected the integrity of the election, the court ordered the commission to conduct the fresh poll.
Unfortunately, the IEBC does not seem to be keen to take up the second chance it has been handed. In fact, there are real fears that the agency may be unable to hold a credible election, if the current wrangling among commissioners and the secretariat continues.
It is clear that the IEBC chairman on one hand, and the chief executive officer and a faction of commissioners who support him on the other, are yet to agree on the fundamental question of whether indeed the electoral body bungled the election, how this happened, and which individuals are culpable.
A letter from the CEO to the commission’s staff soon after the court’s ruling seemed to contradict the stand taken by the chairman, who invited the office of the Public Prosecutor to move in and take action against officers who had violated the law.
The war between the two officials has spilled to the public and taken a political dimension with the two main political groups seeming to take the side of either.
Meanwhile, time is fast running out and the 60 days within which the IEBC should hold fresh elections will soon lapse. The October 17 date gazetted by the IEBC for the election is even closer.
Yet, there is a lot of work to be done to hold a credible election: The IEBC ought to have convened a meeting of all stakeholders — political parties and civil society — to discuss and agree on how to correct the anomalies the court found.
Then, there is a need to address the issue of printing of the presidential ballot papers and other election material.
There is also the thorny issue of relaying results by the three mobile providers. Some of the returning officers who didn’t sign the forms and 42 among them that have committed election offences need to be replaced and the newcomers given proper training.
While the world is full of praise for the unprecedented ruling by the Supreme Court nullifying the presidential elections, IEBC appears to be heading for a repeat of the same mistakes.
The electoral body must assure the world that the Supreme Court ruling was not in vain and it is in the process of correcting its mistakes.
To begin with, IEBC must show that it is in charge but at the same time, it is only sufficient consultations with all stakeholders that will reduce the suspicions over IEBC capability to hold a credible and free election.