Kenya’s Parliament has started hearing petitions seeking the removal of four electoral commissioners who refused to endorse the declaration of President William Ruto as the winner of the August election, describing the vote tallying as opaque.
Four petitions are before the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs accusing the four officials, including the vice-chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Juliana Cherera, of gross misconduct, incompetence, putting their offices into disrepute and violating the Constitution.
The committee dominated by MPs allied to the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, and whose proceedings are being boycotted by the opposition, is widely expected to indict the officials, paving the way for President Ruto to suspend them and appoint a tribunal to investigate them.
The petitions have been filed separately by individual voters and fringe political parties affiliated to the ruling coalition.
But the opposition is seeing the president’s hidden hand in the move to oust the officials, accusing him of being on a revenge mission against persons who questioned his disputed victory and seeking to capture the electoral commission to smooth the path for his re-election in 2027.
Exit of police boss
In one of his first major decisions upon taking office in September, Ruto announced the exits of the Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti in what was seen as the start of a regime backlash against public officials perceived to have been involved in a scheme to block then Deputy President Ruto from succeeding former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Mutyambai and Mr Kinoti were the target of public attacks by Ruto and his political allies over the arrest of three Venezuelan nationals reportedly found in illegal possession of election materials two weeks to the August 9 vote.
The terms of three commissioners who approved the presidential election results, including chairman Wafula Chebukati, run out in January, meaning President Ruto will be presented with an opportunity to influence the selection of a new team of seven if the four objectors are ousted.
Electoral commissioners enjoy security of tenure and are much harder to force out, with the Constitution requiring any grievance against them to go through Parliament and a judicial tribunal.
But the four were living on borrowed time after a series of defections by MPs from the opposition Azimio coalition tilted the balance of power in Parliament in favour of President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza.
The ruling coalition has 179 MPs in the 349-member National Assembly against Azimio’s 157 after a number of opposition and independent MPs shifted loyalty, with the gap expected to grow wider in light of the emerging fallout in the loose coalition that backed former prime minister Raila Odinga’s presidential bid in the August election.
Mr Odinga lost to President Ruto by a narrow margin and has seen his grip on his coalition loosen as the president keeps making overtures to politicians from the traditional opposition strongholds.
A reinvented Raila?
But the veteran opposition leader, described as an enigma in Kenyan politics by Nigerian author Babafemi Badejo in his 2006 biography, has a way of reinventing himself and could still cause the president considerable headache in a political scene where no credible opposition successor has emerged.
He has in recent weeks kept the new administration on its toes, faulting the new government’s response to the rising cost of living and challenging its policies like the decision to lift a ban on genetically modified organism (GMO) products.
On Thursday, he warned that the Ruto administration had crossed a democratic red line shortly after he and top Azimio leaders made an appearance at the parliamentary committee hearings to show solidarity with the four electoral commissioners.
“The injustice being inflicted on the IEBC four will mark the beginning of a pushback against the Ruto regime,” he said.
President Ruto sought to call Mr Odinga’s bluff in a tweet on Friday, calling the commissioners ‘rogue officials’ who should be held to account.
“The lords of impunity, who destroyed oversight institutions using the handshake fraud, should allow parliament to hold rogue officials who put the nation in danger by subverting the democratic will of the people to be held to account. New order is the rule of law, not wishes of big men,” the President tweeted.
The battle lines in Kenya’s latest grand political showdown are drawn.