Why hiring of IEBC chiefs, CJ is the next battlefront for Raila, Ruto

Experts says Ruto and Raila will have keen interest in the process

In Summary

• Political pundits observe that the filling of the key positions will form a fertile ground for political contestations.

• The Judicial Service Commission is set to start the process of replacing CJ David Maraga who is retiring on January 12.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018.
RAILA VS RUTO: Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018.
Image: FILE

The planned recruitment of Chief Justice and IEBC commissioners are turning out to be the next battle fronts for Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga 

They have already started beating the drums that signals a looming clash ahead of the recruitment process expected kick off as early as next month and into the New Year.

“They can fix any chairman or commissioner they want for the IEBC but they must accept the outcome of the elections,” Ruto said last week in an apparent reference to Raila whose has contested the results of the last three Presidential election.

“IEBC and CJ issues will definitely become part and parcel of contestation and public statements including insults,” Prof Peter Kagwanja said, adding that the two institutions are instrumental in determining the outcome of the polls.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi echoed the same saying," The two positions would interest anyone. So, definitely it will be something if you are eying the presidency post in 2022, you would want to ensure that whoever feels these roles does not appear to favour or play balls for the other side."

The Judicial Service Commission is set to start the process of replacing David Maraga who is retiring on January 12.

CJ’s position, whose holder is the President of the Supreme Court that determines presidential election petitions is a critical one for the politicians eyeing the President in 2022.

In 2017, the apex court nullified the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta following a petition by NASA.

With this still fresh in mind, Raila and Ruto, both seeking to succeed President Uhuru, will have a keen interest on the position.

“The experience of 2017 elections where the CJ nullified the elections on technicalities, irrespective of whether you are the one who benefitted from it or not, the truth of the matter is that politicians will have key interest on Maraga’s successor,” Kagwanja said.

The JSC is already split on when to start the recruitment of Maraga’s successor amid reports some of the commissioners were acting for ‘outside forces.’

While one faction led by Law Society of Kenya representative Macharia Njeru want the process to start immediately to ensure there is no vacancy, another lot led by Maraga and Deputy CJ Philemon Mwilu has opposed the move.

At the IEBC, the process of filling  four vacant positions is set to begin in earnest when the President signs into law a Bill that establishes election panel for the recruitment of the commissioners.

The IEBC (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was approved by Parliament last week after months of vigorous negotiations.

A seven-member team will be formed to oversee the filling of  the positions.

The panel will have two men and two women nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission, one person nominated by the LSK and two individuals fronted by the Inter-religious Council of Kenya.

The IEBC slots have been vacant since 2017 when four commissioners resigned in a huff, leaving chairman Wafula Chebukati and two other commissioners – Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu – in office.

Those who resigned were Roselyne Akombe, Consolata Maina, Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya.

Last weekend, Ruto sparked what may blossom into a full blown clash between him and Raila ahead of the recruitment.

He told a gathering in Embu that he won’t care who the next IEBC chairman becomes, even if it is Raila’s elder brother Oburu Odinga.

“Anyone can assume the leadership of the commission. We are ready and have confidence in our independent institutions,” he said.

Kagwanja said the IEBC and Judiciary should be ‘as flawless as Cesar’s wife’ as they are key in determining not only the outcome of elections but the stability of the country.

“They are at the heart of stability of the country and ensuring that the country does not meltdown into conflicts over elections,” he said.

Andati explained that while Ruto might wish to have key interest on who occupy the positions, he may have little influence.

“Ruto has already said he doesn’t care who heads the commission. And even if he cared, he would have very little influence. There will be a lot of horse-trading between Uhuru and Uhuru. They have the numbers to be able to push their way through,” he said.