Claims of official meddling in the work of Kenya’s electoral commission have rocked preparations for the country’s next elections amid renewed concerns over political stability.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his State of the Nation Address on Tuesday that the country must break the cycle of violence that has cost lives, displaced people from their homes and inflicted massive economic losses during five of the past six elections since 1992.
The president, who is set to retire next year after serving his second term, said his administration is committed to ensuring the 2022 elections take place peacefully.
A committee made up of state agencies having management and support roles in election operations, including the electoral commission, the National Police Service and the National Intelligence Service, has been meeting to plan for the polls.
But the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in a letter dated November 22, withdrew from the committee, alleging interference with its constitutional independence and hijacking of some of its election management roles.
IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati on Wednesday told the Senate Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs that his team was especially uncomfortable with being required to report to an unnamed agency about issues touching on its mandate.
Mr Chebukati said the electoral commission would continue to engage with the relevant agencies in a way that would not compromise its independence.
The electoral body has been keen to avoid the legal landmines that have seen the outcome of the past two presidential elections challenged at the Supreme Court.
In the landmark Supreme Court case that led to the nullification of President Kenyatta’s re-election in 2017, the petitioners alleged, among others, deployment of state resources in his re-election campaigns, but the judges found no evidence.
However, the dramatic manner of the IEBC’s withdrawal from the 2022 State election preparations committee is likely to strain its relationship with the agencies it needs to provide crucial operational support for the elections -— including security, ICT, and funding.
The commission has been lobbying for additional funds from the Treasury, for example, to plug the hole in its Ksh40 billion ($355 million) budget for the polls.
The timing of its quit notice, coinciding with escalated agitation against the committee by Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, has had the electoral body dragged into the murky politics around the next elections.
UDA has accused some of the officials, including Cabinet ministers, sitting on the committee of campaigning for former prime minister Raila Odinga, who is seen as Mr Ruto’s main rival in the race to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022.
A number of ministers have attended public meetings addressed by Mr Odinga, citing his co-operation agreement with President Kenyatta, popularly known as the “Handshake”.
UDA has in recent days also put pressure on Chief Justice Martha Koome to quit the election preparations team, saying that her membership risks compromising her objectivity in the event of a Supreme Court petition next year.
Mr Odinga’s ODM party, for its part, has trained its guns on the IEBC, accusing it of allowing Mr Ruto’s UDA to influence its decisions.
The Supreme Court indicted the IEBC for bungling the 2017 election .
A number of MPs affiliated to Mr Odinga’s party have in the past pushed for Mr Chebukati’s removal.
With the IEBC’s withdrawal from the 2022 election preparations committee having drawn it into another public controversy, Mr Chebukati’s opposers smell blood.