Kenya senate to debate on bipartisan talks report

Saturday February 24 2024
ke senate

Kenya's Senate at a past session. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The Kenyan Senate this week began debate on the report of a bipartisan committee set up to defuse widespread political tension in the country last year, whose outcome may trigger a new round of reforms to the electoral management and governance structure.

The introduction of the report in the two Houses of Parliament was overshadowed by two major events: The passing of a controversial affordable housing Bill and the announcement of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s candidature for the African Union Commission’s chairmanship.

Its release last November by the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) similarly elicited little public excitement, with a section of politicians in the rival coalitions expressing their opposition.

But the reforms it is proposing are far-reaching and would shape Kenya’s politics between now and 2027, when the next General Election will be held.

Read: Kenya talks team’s fight for life as ex-polls officials open old wounds

Critics of the report, which has the backing of both President William Ruto and Mr Odinga, warn that the proposal to create the offices of a prime minister and an official opposition leader may require a referendum to change the Constitution.


Failed bid

A similar bid by former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga to have the Constitution amended to create the position of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers failed between 2021 and 2022 after the courts blocked their Building Bridges Initiative reforms.

In the latest push, the reconstitution of the electoral commission will preoccupy the rival political formations from the onset this year, with each interested in influencing the appointment of the next team of commissioners who will oversee the management of the next elections.

The exit of the last seven commissioners, through forced resignations or retirement, between December 2022 and January 2023 rendered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission largely dysfunctional.

At least one parliamentary constituency and several wards whose representatives in the National Assembly or the county assemblies died in the past year have not replaced them because the IEBC is improperly constituted to conduct elections.

Ahead of 2027, the political stakes in the electoral management body are also seen to be much higher given the extraordinary role the last commissioners played in deciding the outcome of the last presidential election.

Four of the then seven commissioners publicly questioned the integrity of the election, terming the results used by their chairman, Wafula Chebukati, to declare Ruto the winner opaque.

Read: Kenya talks team to report to Ruto, Raila in 60 days

The two factions subsequently gave contradicting testimonies before Supreme Court judges hearing a petition challenging Ruto’s victory, capping a series of dramatic events that has seen the opposition continue to allege vote rigging in the 2022 election.

The Nadco report has proposed an audit of the last election. But it is not clear whether the authorities will allow the comprehensive investigation of the electoral commission’s electronic results transmission system as demanded by the opposition.

The last time Odinga sought limited access to the IEBC servers to help him argue his Supreme Court petition, he also met resistance from the commission’s technology vendor Smartmatic International, citing potential violation of its intellectual property rights.