Doubts emerge over Kenya, Somalia poll readiness

Tuesday October 04 2016
som security

Somalia government soldiers on patrol in Mogadishu after an Al Shabaab attack. There are concerns about sabotage by Al Shabaab and fears that clan, money and incumbency are likely to tilt the playing field during elections. FILE PHOTO | AFP

After the elections in Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda where violence and allegations of an uneven playing field for the candidates and where partisan electoral bodies tainted the outcomes, the focus is now on Somalia, which is holding elections, and Rwanda and Kenya which go to the polls next year.

The three elections are already facing challenges of insecurity, a lack of level playing field and poor preparations.

Somalia will be holding parliamentary and Senate elections from October 23 that will culminate in the presidential election on November 30, but there are concerns about sabotage by Al Shabaab and fears that clan, money and incumbency are likely to tilt the playground.

There are also concerns that the elections were hastily organised, with the electoral commission being constituted just months before the elections, while President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud overshot his term, which ended on September 10. 

Unlike in 2012 when 135 clan elders selected 275 MPs, there will be 14,025 people participating in the election where 30 per cent of the parliamentary and senate seats have been reserved for women. The United Nations Development Programme is the key financier of the Somalia elections. 

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In Kenya, political temperatures are rising, despite recent electoral reforms that are expected to reduce malpractices and election-related violence. There are concerns about the selection of the new commissioners for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who should have been in office by September 30.

The selection panel to appoint the new seven commissioners is yet to be constituted. The need for a new team came about after the current commission led by Issack Hassan offered to vacate office following public pressure.

But IEBC chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba said that the secretariat is going on with preparations that started in July. The plan includes raising the $390 million needed for the elections up from the $232,890 the commission spent in 2013 due to increased expenses such as increasing polling stations from 31,000 to 44,000.

Mr Chiloba said that the National Assembly has allocated the commission part of the resources and the commission is working to ensure a comprehensive, updated and certified voter register before August 2017.

“The register will be made public and accessible at the constituency offices at least 30 days before the election,” he said.

The opposition, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) has been accusing IEBC of having operated multiple registers in the 2013 election and demanded fresh registration of voters. However, the latest electoral reforms require the consolidation of the five registers used in 2013 into one which will undergo forensic audit by an internationally recognised firm.

In Rwanda, which is also scheduled to hold elections in August 2017, the opposition is complaining about the lack of a fair playing field. The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda has threatened to boycott the elections unless the country undertakes constitutional and electoral reforms that would level the playing field and promote inclusivity.

But President Paul Kagame’s government has dismissed demands by the opposition for minimum constitutional and electoral reforms.

READ: No electoral or party law reforms, Rwanda govt tells opposition

However, the Rwanda National Electoral Commission executive secretary Charles Munyaneza, said that key preparations have already started with the training of the electoral body staff at the national level. Also underway are training for representatives of political parties, civil society organisations, national youth, women and people with disabilities and gender monitoring office.

“These people will start training and sensitising the general population on the electoral process. In November this year and May next year, we shall update our current voters’ register,” Mr Munyaneza told The EastAfrican.

READ: Rwanda starts plans for 2017 polls as opposition demands electoral reforms

About 6.6 million people are expected to vote in an election that will cost an estimated $6.7 million, with the government meeting 95 per cent and donors providing the rest. However, Mr Munyaneza said that the electoral calendar is not yet approved by Cabinet but elections shall be held early August 2017.
Rwanda last held general elections in August 2010.
Additional reporting by Abdulkadir Khalif in Mogadishu and Edmund Kagire in Kigali.