A negotiations committee set up to recommend reforms to Kenya’s elections management and governance systems faced its greatest test yet this week after four former electoral commissioners appearing before it questioned the legitimacy of last year’s presidential poll.
The quartet, including two who made their presentations via video conferencing from exile, on Thursday called for an audit of the elections, reiterating their earlier statement that the results used by then chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Wafula Chebukati to declare President William Ruto the winner were opaque.
Three other former electoral commissioners, including Mr Chebukati, declined invitations to appear before the National Dialogue Committee co-chaired by former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah.
A forensic audit of the election in which President Ruto defeated opposition leader Raila Odinga by a narrow margin, is part of the agenda at the bipartisan talks initiated by the two leaders to end the opposition-led sporadic anti-government protests that shut down the economy in major towns and cities and threatened the country’s political stability between March and July.
The committee is also considering proposals by the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition to change the Constitution to expand the country’s governance structure by creating the office of opposition leader and entrenching the post a Prime Cabinet Secretary — equivalent to a prime minister.
Government critics haven’t missed the opportunity to draw parallels between some of the proposals before the bipartisan committee and the constitutional amendments recommended by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) reforms taskforce two years ago.
As a renegade Deputy President in the previous administration of Uhuru Kenyatta, President Ruto led the public campaign against BBI, terming it a self-serving process meant to create positions for individuals.
The BBI proposals were blocked by courts in 2021, scuttling a planned referendum later that year.
The impact of the latest negotiations, facilitated by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and American Senator Chris Coons, is already being felt in the economy.
Company managers participating in a survey by Stanbic Bank and American analytics firm S&P Global on the health of Kenya’s private sector cited political stability as the reason for the recovery of output witnessed in the manufacturing and services sectors in August.
But the reopening of the debate on the legitimacy of the election will most likely embolden hardliners in the ruling coalition to try to frustrate the committee’s work.]
The hardliners, most of them politicians from the Mount Kenya region allied to Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, have in recent weeks stepped up their rhetoric against the committee, alleging a scheme by the opposition to use it to blackmail the government into accepting a power-sharing arrangement.
On the eve of the appearance by the former electoral commissioners before the committee, a document showing the expenditure on allowances by its members was leaked to the media.
An opposition politician who is close to the talks at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi warned on his X, formerly Twitter, handle on Thursday that a number of suits by proxy litigants calling for the committee’s disbandment could come before the courts in the coming days.
On Friday, three people filed a petition seeking to have its work declared unconstitutional, arguing it lacks a legal framework to guide collection of public views.
The committee could find itself fighting for its life in the coming days.
In their petition, the three argued that there is no legal framework for the talks that have been going on at the Bomas of Kenya.
A number of stakeholders have presented their views on parts of the Constitution that they want changed to improve governance in Kenya and also deal with issues that trigger violence after every five years.