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January 17, 2019

We Should Protect IEBC If We Want Credible Elections

CONTROVERSY: IEBC chairman Issack Hassan when he appeared before a joint parliamentary committee over the biometric voting registration kits on Thursday last week. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE
CONTROVERSY: IEBC chairman Issack Hassan when he appeared before a joint parliamentary committee over the biometric voting registration kits on Thursday last week. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

Give a dog a bad name; and have the excuse to kill it— this appears to be the motive behind the barrage of criticism currently directed at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

The controversy surrounding the procurement of the biometric voter registration kits and the accusations leveled against IEBC are turning out to be some kind of déjà vu— every election year, the credibility of the body mandated by law to supervise the conduct of elections is called to question, and the consequence has often been disputes over election results.

Prior to the 1992 General Election, the electoral commission under then chairman Zacheus Chesoni was virtually rubbished by the opposition parties who accused it of partisanship in favour of the then ruling party Kanu. The result was a dispute over the poll outcome, with then key opposition figure Kenneth Matiba contesting the re-election of President Moi.

The case prior to the 1997 polls was slightly better because the electoral commission, then under Samuel Kivuitu, was constituted pursuant to that year’s Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) agreement that allowed opposition parties to nominate their own representatives to the electoral commission. Although Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga would later contest Moi’s victory citing unorthodox use of state machinery and stuffing of ballot boxes in some areas, there was relative satisfaction that the polls were free and fair. In fact, opposition parties would end up blaming themselves for not uniting, therefore handing Moi an easy victory.

Prior to the 2002 polls, there was apprehension that Moi would rig the elections in favour of his then preferred successor Uhuru Kenyatta. However, there was general satisfaction with the constitution of the electoral commission because Moi still honoured the 1997 IPPG deal that was still in force.

Besides, a few electoral reforms had been agreed upon prior to the polls, which included counting and announcing results at the respective polling stations and only awaiting the tallying at the national level— this helped reduce instances of rigging and, for the first time, the electoral commission won the accolades for doing a good job that saw Mwai Kibaki win the presidency in what was billed as one of Kenya’s most free and fair General Election.

But come 2007 and the country started off on the wrong footing when Kibaki unilaterally appointed commissioners to the electoral commission in total disregard of the IPPG deal.  What followed was a barrage of criticisms leveled against the Kivuitu-led electoral commission, and by the time the polls were held in December, Kenyans had little faith in the electoral body— the price to pay was the post-election violence that hurtled the country to the brink of civil war.

This trend, therefore, proves the truth of the saying that; the outcome of an election is only as good as the credibility of the men and women who supervised its conduct. Today, the credibility of the IEBC is being called to question and if the issues causing the controversy are not resolved effectively and comprehensively, then the outcome of the next general election could also be called to question. And this is where the ball is thrown back into the court of the Kenyan public— what kind of results do Kenyans want after they go to the polls next year?

There is no doubt that, given the events of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, every well-intentioned Kenyan wants free and fair elections—elections that inspire what former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described as “confidence in the ballot process.”

In this regard, if Kenyans truly want free and fair elections next year, then they must build confidence and trust in the IEBC. But if they continue discrediting the electoral body, then they could as well forget about free and fair elections— for we should remember that; ‘an election is only as good as the credibility of the body mandated to supervise its conduct.”

As much as Kenyans have the right to demand explanations from IEBC on how it is performing its duties, the way politicians, and now the Executive, are trying to impose themselves on the commission is unacceptable. The fiasco over the procurement of the BVR kits is highly regrettable, but this should not be an excuse for politicians, hiding behind parliamentary committees, to intimidate the IEBC by demanding that they conduct themselves in one particular way or another.

It is also unacceptable for the Cabinet to demand that IEBC proceeds with the BVR procurement even after the commission, in its wisdom, has concluded that the BVR plans are no longer tenable. In this regard, the people of Kenya, in whom sovereign authority resides, should come out to defend the independence of IEBC from assault by vested interests.

If the people of Kenya allow vested interests to give IEBC a bad name so that they can create an excuse to kill its independence, then the very people will have themselves to blame if the outcome of the next elections is messy. However, IEBC must also behave in a manner that restores the people’s confidence in the ballot process. The biometric voter registration option is certainly the way to go, and if conditions allow, then IEBC should proceed with it so long as transparency and accountability are guaranteed.

Indeed, we cannot ignore the wise counsel we received from the August 2009 National Conference on Electoral Reforms held in Nairobi, where delegates from more mature democracies called upon Kenya to do whatever is possible to employ technology as a way to guarantee the conduct of free and fair elections. They also emphasized the need to ensure that the people appointed to the electoral commission are credible and above reproach.

Speaking during the conference, the Chairperson of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission Brigalia Bam said the use of technology in all polling levels in her country has ensured that errors are eliminated, thus underscoring the need to track election documentation at every step of the polls. “After the Kenya experience we introduced scanning methods in the municipalities in which the voting forms are stored in the computer. This one is able to trace that a certain individual voted at a specific polling station at a certain time,” Dr Bam said.

From that conference, we gathered that other countries learned from our mistakes in 2007 and used those lessons to improve their situation. We in Kenya must also learn from others to improve our situation, and if the BVR is a good idea, then we should adopt it progressively.

The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).


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