Stalemate puts integrity of Kenya elections at stake

Saturday June 04 2016

Kenya's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. The Supreme Court that presides over presidential election petitions is currently divided over the succession of the Chief Justice who is taking early retirement this month. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

With the Kenyan General Election only 15 months away, key institutions are facing serious challenges that raise credibility questions about the August 2017 polls. 

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is under pressure from the opposition to quit; the Supreme Court that presides over presidential election petitions is engulfed in a succession war; there are concerns about multiple voter registers; and the Registrar of Persons is also under pressure to issue identity cards to millions of eligible youth.

MP Abdulswamad Nassir, speaking on behalf of a new bipartisan parliamentary caucus on electoral reforms, said that preparations for and the credibility of the upcoming elections is a matter too serious to be wished away and must be addressed urgently.

While both the ruling Jubilee Alliance and the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) agree that there is a need to restructure IEBC and initiate some electoral reforms, there is still a stalemate over whether to follow the Constitution or initiate a political solution through national dialogue outside parliament.

The parliamentary route requires Cord — that has accused the commissioners of bias and incompetence — to petition the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which then would advise the president to form a tribunal. 

READ: Kenya's ruling Jubilee hints at forum to reform election body


ALSO READ: Foreign envoys condemn violent protests, urge Kenyan talks in IEBC row

Hopes for political dialogue over the restructuring of IEBC between the government and CORD after the May 30 meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cord leader Raila Odinga appeared slim by the time of going to press as both sides continued to give conditions for the talks.

READ: Kenyan president and opposition leaders hold talks

David Ochieng, a member of the parliamentary committee on legal and constitutional affairs said that the country is running out of time on electoral reforms but it is possible to put new commissioners in place by August if there is political goodwill from both sides of the political divide.

“There is near consensus that IEBC needs to be reconstituted but we are yet to develop a concrete framework where the commissioners can exit with dignity and sufficient severance package,” said Mr Ochieng.

However, John Waiganjo, another member of the same committee is of the view that moving the election date from August to December would solve all the controversies surrounding IEBC commissioners because their term expires in November 2017 and it will be clear to them that they will not conduct the next elections.

“The answer is to move the election date which will satisfy everybody because those who don’t want the current commissioners will have their relief while those who think they can use the current commission to their advantage will miss out,” said Mr Waiganjo, who believes that the only way to remove the commissioners is through the legal affairs committee.

The Supreme Court, another key institution in the presidential elections is currently divided over the succession of the Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga who is taking early retirement this month.

Judges to the highest court in the land are currently split into two over their retirement age, with some siding with Dr Mutunga who is advocating retirement age of 70 while others are supporting his deputy, Kalpana Rawal that wants judges to retire at age 74.

Norman Magaya, the Cord chief executive officer says the crisis at the Supreme Court is likely to compound as the country moves towards elections and more vested interests emerge to influence the Mutunga succession.

However, he adds that Cord is more concerned about the IEBC infrastructure such as voter register, voter registration and the issuance of identity cards to the youth who have reached voting age.