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Let’s not be Vague, Kenya Needs a Different IEBC

Let’s not Ignore Opposition’s Claims

The current and now persistent call for the disbandment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) a body that is charged with Kenya’s election process is indeed one that we can ignore at our very peril. The political opposition has persistently complained about the IEBC since the last general elections in 2013. There was some hope that the opposition could complain for a while then “move on.” It didn’t. On the contrary we have seen in a recent turn of events the opposition claiming it won’t go into another election with the IEBC as it is constituted today. Some people consider that a mere political rhetoric. It isn’t. It is a matter of grave concern to this country. We notice that the opposition simply says that it will not participate in another election with the current IEBC but the same opposition is not telling us what they plan to do.  Political entities are in their entirety tuned to capture power and in this case state power. The current opposition in Kenya is no exception. When the opposition argues that it won’t participate in an election if a certain condition is not met you can then expect them to quit competitive politics. But again you realize that at once they claim they won’t participate in an election managed by the current IEBC yet they continue in the political activity aimed at capture of state power. That kind of contradiction is not an accident. We should ask the opposition what their plan is to capture state power since the only known and legitimate one as things stand is elections which they say they might not participate in.

I still insist that we must, as nation, be gravely concerned about the call to disband the IEBC and the threat by the opposition that it won’t take part in another election with the current IEBC. Government has taken a don’t care posture on this matter. My take is that such posture helps no one including those in government. It is extremely dangerous to ignore an opposition in a democracy and especially its concerns over elections for the simple reason that the opposition represents a constituency that is part of the same society that government leads. In the last election Mr. Odinga garnered 5 million votes and was effectively elected the leader of opposition which is a constitutional office in Kenya. He as leader of the opposition, as well as, all other opposition figures have a stake in the country’s management. Their stake is even huge when it comes to what they think about electoral processes. They simply cannot be ignored. Government must accept that it is wrong on this issue; it cannot pose as if it doesn’t care or that the IEBC is a non-issue. Government has an obligation to respond, and effectively so, to the ongoing concerns about the IEBC and be ready to address these matters even as the next elections fast approaches.

Perceptions Make or Break Elections

When it comes to elections there are a number of key things that must be taken pretty exceptionally serious. Top in that list is confidence in the electoral body that can be measured by tracking perceptions. From all recent opinion polls the public confidence in the IEBC has been rated at under 20%. If this cannot worry a country that is known for electoral related violence, then I do not know what should concern Kenya. We are equally concerned about corruption but then in corruption, people mainly steal while in elections people mainly kill. Killing and stealing all are social evils and sins too from where I belong. I leave it to public opinion to judge what among them is grave but from where I go to church all sins are equal. A sin is a sin. But from the international justice system corruption has not been termed a crime against humanity. Probably we need to move in that direction. We have a full list already from the Panama papers to make the ICC quite busy.

Coming back to the IEBC saga. Let’s not forget that perception, to a large extent, determines the acceptability of election results. There are so called electoral benchmarks around things like credibility, fairness, freeness, openness etc but these things are largely fluid concepts. It depends who is looking at them and from what angle. In Uganda, for instance, some observers using same parameters said the elections met the threshold of a free and fail poll while others bitterly contested that. Who is telling the truth does not often matter; the winner is in effect declared, it is either you accept or go to hell or you dare fight him if you can. You can be sure to do the latter at your own peril in Uganda but in Kenya they do it. At least they butchered some 1,300 mortals in 2007-8 and few hundreds of others in the previous elections. The reason why the IEBC needs to be restructured is not necessarily on whether or not it is now capable and well prepared to manage an election, in my view, but rather because the commission is suffering from a run way perception hemorrhage. There is so little that can be done to restore confidence in the current commission if it is not totally and completely restructured. Actually following the overhaul, we might end up with a less prepared entity but if it can inspire confidence across board, so be it.

Kenya Has Never Had Free and Fair Elections

Every election is rigged, at least, in Kenya. That is a controversial statement but I guess few have the guts to debate me on the same. We have never had a free and fair elections in this country. Many are the assertions that the 2002 elections were free and fair. That is laughable. In fact, those elections were rigged more than the elections of 2013 and I dare say even than the one of 2007. The only reason people think Kenya had a successful election in 2002 is because the verdict was accepted across board. If Uhuru had won that election Kenya could have burned then. But since the electoral results went the public mood way, many people easily went to the market and bought this strange claim that the 2002 elections were free and fair. I insist, they were not. The then Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) was simply incapable of holding any free and fair elections. There was no such a possibility. Moi and Uhuru rigged that election badly but the opposition was too overwhelming for them; they needed to rig almost everything in order for KANU to retain power. But the opposition too rigged that election, after all, majority, if not all, the key opposition figures came out of KANU and were themselves the same people behind KANU’s decades of electoral fraud. Let’s leave history to itself.

Let’s Recreate IEBC

Chances of having a free and fair election next year are negligibly narrow. This is the sole reason why our focus as a country should be to reform the IEBC. This is our best bet on mitigating a post-poll bloodshed.  Let’s go and recreate an electoral body that all political players, interest groups and the public will claim to have confidence in. That way, we will have checked the danger of any political entity refusing to accept the poll results. As it stands we have a legal lacuna in terms of restructuring of the IEBC. We actually need a referendum to do that. It is not feasible to have a referendum at about 17 months to the general elections. The best bet therefore is to have an inclusive national conversation on how best to reform and reconstitute the IEBC. By inclusive I mean, government, the opposition and civil society including religious groups working together. Government must stop being arrogant and assume things are right; they are not. We need a different IEBC, if not for anything else, just for calmness during and after the next election.

Let’s not be Vague, Kenya Needs a Different IEBC Let’s not be Vague, Kenya Needs a Different IEBC Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on April 14, 2016 Rating: 5

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