PULLING STRINGS

Next battlefront: Control of the IEBC for 2022

Selection panel to be the theatre for bigwig's battle to influence electoral commission

In Summary
  • The schemes by political bigwigs to control the country's electoral commission is expected to come down to the wire with the composition of a seven-member selection panel.
  • Politicians and analysts say key political figures eyeing State house will be keen to influence the election panel to recruit the four new IEBC commissioners.
Members of Parliament and the Senate at the Parliament Gallery during the opening of the 11th Parliament.
AUGUST HOUSE: Members of Parliament and the Senate at the Parliament Gallery during the opening of the 11th Parliament.
Image: FILE

A major showdown is taking shape as political bigwigs scheme to control the country's electoral  commission ahead of the 2022 polls.

The behind-the-scenes plotting is expected to come down to the wire as politicians connive for a firm grip on the seven-member recruitment panel, or at least significant influence.

Politicians and analysts say key political figures eyeing the 2022 presidential battle are keen to have their presence felt in the selection.

However, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who would be the appointing authority, has final and,  sweeping legal leeway to pick four commissioners from a list of six.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, Deputy President William Ruto, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka are among the heavyweights eyeing the presidency.

The handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila already seems fragile  because of the turbulence rocking the Building Bridges Initiative and succession politics. The ground is shifting and so are game plans.

"The next battlefront for the politicians would be the control of IEBC," Makadara MP George Aladwa said.

The Raila ally said it's a no-brainer that each presidential hopeful wants to pull the strings at the IEBC.

"When all is said and done, the IEBC is an independent commission and must ensure it holds free and fair elections in 2022," Aladwa said.

The four commissioners will join chairman Wafula Chebukati and commissioners and Boya Molu and Abdi Guliye.

The President will have to weigh tough options to ensure regional balance and merit are his main criteria.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act 2011 requires the selection panel to submit nine names to the President.

However, with only four vacancies to be filled, the panel would most likely submit the names of the best six candidates, enabling the President to appoint a quartet.

Analysts say the claims President Kenyatta and his confidants could be plotting to betray Raila in favour of a Musalia-Gideon Moi ticket mean politicians would be closely watching his appointments and interpreting them.

To pull the strings at the IEBC, players must first control or heavily influence the seven-member selection panel.

It is expected to be in place by May 5.

Parliament  has four nominees to the selection panel and therefore carries heavier weight. It is expected to be the hotbed of high-stakes power games.

Political heavyweights are keen their allies are picked by the Parliamentary Service Commission to hold sway in the interviews and final selection.

 

Chairman of the IEBC Wafula Chebukati on April 20, 2018.
THE BOSS: Chairman of the IEBC Wafula Chebukati on April 20, 2018.
Image: JACK OWUOR

On Thursday, governance expert and political analyst Gertrude Miguna told the Star the next few days would witness heightened scheming to control the recruitment.

“No serious presidential contender will not want to want to penetrate and influence the recruitment of commissioners. The real battle would get down to the wire at the recruitment panel,” she said.

Gertrude said the country's political terrain being largely tribal, the selection panel will have its work cut out for it, from the initial shortlisting and interviewing to ensure the 'face of Kenya' is reflected.

"For instance, the chairman coming from Western Kenya and the current commissioners and the acting CEO from Northern Kenya, the next crop of nominees must be spread out to regions not represented,” she said.

She said the Rift Valley, Coast, Nyanza and Central Kenya would, in an ideal situation, be the next beneficiaries of the four slots. 

Preselection preparations can be nasty. They have rocked the Law Society of Kenya in  filling its one slot on the IEBC selection panel.

As factional battles roil the LSK, president Nelson Havi picked Morris Mutua Kimuli, while a splinter group of eight council members allied to CEO Nancy Wambua settled on Dorothy Jemator.

The Parliamentary Service Commission, which will receive the names before they are forwarded to the President, would have to unlock the LSK impasse.

Meantime, it emerged there was disquiet among  religious groups following the nomination of Joseph Mutie of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches. and Abdalla Fariduum from the Shia Select of Islam.

They argued the entities benefited because they lost out in the 2016 process that recruited the Chebukati team.

The mainstream churches were represented by then Canon Peter Karanja, the  general secretary of National Council of Churches of Kenya; Abdulghafur El-Busaidy of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims; and David Oginde, representing the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya Bishops.

A battle is in the offing in Parliament as politicians scheme to have their allies nominated by the Parliamentary Service Commission to fill the four slots.

The various groupings and interests allocated slots on the recruitment team face their own differences in settling on nominees, exposing their own deep-seated political interests.

Political allegiance will play out as the commissioners get down to business to pick their nominees. Key political players are keen to use their allies for leverage.

Deputy President William Ruto holds sway on the powerful Parliamentary Service Commission, where at least five commissioners are said to have a soft spot for him.

This apparent preference for the DP, who is estranged from President Kenyatta, is a source of concern to other parties seeking to influence the commission. 

The PSC is chaired by presidential ally, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi.

The commission includes PSC vice chairperson Naomi Shaban (Taveta MP) and commissioners Aisha Jumwa (Malindi MP), Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho senator), former Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkonga and ex-Kakamega Woman Representative Recheal Ameso.

Other members are George Khaniri (Vihiga senator), Betty Mugo (nominated), Adan Keynan (Eldas) and Borabu MP Ben Momanyi of Wiper.

Tellingly, Raila has no clear allies in the PSC, with the President enjoying the support of Keynan and Mugo, while Khaniri is said to have shifted allegiance to Mudavadi due to the changing political dynamics in Western Kenya.

Momanyi is allied to Kalonzo.

“The real battle will be in the PSC because it is largely a political commission representing political interests. The face of the nominees by the PSC would paint a picture of the final product because they hold the majority vote,”  Turkana South MP James Lomenen said.

Lomenen said the seven-member panel will have to rise above partisan interests and give Kenyans qualified people who will steer the country with integrity and impartiality in the 2022 polls.

“The interviews must be open for Kenyans to follow like the ones of the Chief Justice,” he said, noting that no politician would want to be left out when it comes to selection of a referee.

Politicians have said the handshake faces a litmus test from the DP's majority  at the commission in what would upset Raila and Uhuru.

The Star has reliably leant the PSC could consider splitting the country's political formations into four and then allow the parties to make nominations to the selection panel as in 2016.

President Kenyatta's Jubilee Party, which is split down the middle, will get a slot while the faction led by Ruto will also have one.

Raila and the One Kenya Alliance of Mudavadi, Gideon Moi, Kalonzo and Moses Wetang'ula will also balance off with one slot to ensure fairness.

The DP's allies are said to be pushing for the equal distribution formula as a compromise.

“It is obvious the formations we have now are four. Let each of them get one slot so  we move on,” a Ruto ally ally said on condition of anonymity because he is not the DP's spokesperson.

In 2016 lawyers Evans Monari and Mary Karen Kigen were picked for the IEBC selection panel by the Jubilee wing while former judge Tom Mbaluto and Ogla Chepkemboi Karani represented Cord.

(Edited by V. Graham)