THE stakes are quite high in the upcoming Law Society of Kenya polls which have been characterised with fierce campaigns unprecedented in the history of the society.
The 6,037 lawyers registered to vote in the Thursday poll will pick 12 council members – including the chair and his vice, as well as three disciplinary committee members.
Besides the council elections, the lawyers will also be electing a male representative to sit in the influential Judicial Service Commission. A total of 50 candidates are participating in both council and JSC positions.
The stakes are particularly high in the JSC vote pitting incumbent Ahmednasir Abdullahi against former LSK chairs Okong’o Mogeni and Prof Tom Ojienda and lawyer Kabaru wa Ndegwa. The race for the JSC position has been characterised with bribery and voter treatment claims as the four lawyers criss-crossed the country hunting for the votes.
Not only is the JSC influential in the day to day running of judiciary, it technically hires and fires judges and other senior judicial officers. The JSC will also hire the next Chief Justice after current one Willy Mutunga retires in 2017, months before the general election.
There is also the monetary appeal in JSC given that members earn Sh80,000 per single sitting which shoots to more than a million at the end of the month.
For Ahmednasir, its a do or die.
The “Grand Mullah” has been under siege in the last days of his three year tenure. He took most of the blame for the ouster of the feisty Gladys Boss Shollei from the powerful Chief Registrar of the Judiciary. He is one of the commissioners who were suspended by President Uhuru Kenyatta over issues arising from the Shollei saga.
As such, he is at the centre of the current stand off between Judiciary and two other arms of government- Parliament and executive. His reform credentials notwithstanding, Ahmednasir has made many enemies in the last few years. To save himself he must win.
If he loses the seat, a multitude of enemies will descend on him. Prof Ojienda is said to have heavily invested in the campaigns. He has been campaigning from the platform of a “stabilizer” of the relations between judiciary and other arms of government. He believes JSC cannot continue down the same path charted by Ahmednasir and survive.
Ojienda has however been unable to shake off the “establishment candidate” tag put on him by competitors. His competitors have been telling lawyers that he is a busy man sitting in many boards and will therefore not accord JSC its rightful share of attention.
The controversy surrounding the altering of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission chapter on land is haunting Ojienda’s bid. He chaired the land chapter committee of TJRC and although he has explained the matter severally, it lingers on.
Omogeni, like Ahmednasir and Ojienda has chaired the LSK before. He presents himself as the “most sober” candidate.
It is rumoured that he has the numbers at his beck and may pull a surprise on the other candidates. He scores on ethnic grounds, just like Ahmednasir, in that there is no other Kisii in the JSC at the moment.
Like his competitors, Omogeni has had to deal with the spoiler tag largely from Ojienda’s camp who believe that he will split the votes. It was initially rumoured he was pulling a joint ticket with Ahmednasir and they would re-unite at some point. His camp however denies the merger claims.
Mogeni’s camp believes that it is Ojienda who is splitting the votes for him. Omogeni has also had to deal with the “politician” tag having participated and failed in the last general election.
Very little is known on the prospects of the fourth candidate, Ndegwa who also happens to be the eldest of the four having started off his law practice in 1986. He has kept away from the limelight and concentrated on lobbying for support.
Eric Mutua, the chair of LSK is battling to retain the seat with fellow council members Ambrose Weda and Charles Kanjama challenging him.
His vice chair Renee Omondi is battling with council member Faith Waigwa for the Vice Chair position.
Mutua enjoys all benefits of the incumbency including a supportive secretariat. It is said that under his leadership, LSK has remained vibrant and visible.
His campaign strategists ensured that finalisation and publication of the Advocates Remuneration Order coincided with the poll. His flagship project, the LSK International Arbitration Centre has also been conceptualised under his leadership.
Mutua has dispatched impressive artistic designs of the proposed centre asking lawyers to vote for him to realise it. His opponents claim that he wants lawyers to pay for it from their pockets. They also claim there exists an unwritten understanding that chairs will serve for one term and quit to avoid evils of entrenchment. Mutua has also been accused of running the society as a one man-show.
One particular blur of his tenure remains the failure of LSK to participate in the 2013 presidential poll petition. The society was denied the Amicus role after it emerged that Mutua’s deputy Omondi had signed an affidavit in support of the main petitioner, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Weda’s past political affiliation is proving to be quite a baggage. He ran for Seme parliamentary seat on a TNA ticket but lost. TNA however won the presidential poll and formed government.
Late last year, President Uhuru appointed Weda to serve in a tribunal formed to investigate six JSC members.
In the history of LSK, rarely has its leadership supported the political leadership of the day except during late Mutula Kilonzo’s tenure in the 1980’s. The leadership has always been anti-government and anti-establishment.
Kanjama comes out as the most apolitical of the three candidates. This week he strongly refuted claims that he supported TNA in the last poll. He however admitted being totally opposed to the ICC process. Kanjama also openly flirted with the conservation forum in the lead up to the March 2013 poll.
Known for strong ethical bearing, Kanjama says he is campaigning on the “bread and butter issues that really matter to lawyers.” Selling himself as the busiest of the three, he is talking practice matters and members welfare than wide and oft opaque ideal of constitutional implementation Mutua is harping on.
His acclaimed apolitical note may however be his undoing. With Cord’s inability to wage a structured opposition against Jubilee government, a weakened civil society and media, people are looking up to the LSK to check the government.
All other council members- Allen Gichuhi, James Mwamu, Gertrude Angote, Godfrey Kitiwa and Caroline Khasoa are defending their seats. Only Judith Sijeny, now a nominated Senator is not vying for any seat.
Majority of the votes (4508) are in Nairobi. Mombasa is second with 373 votes, Nakuru 200, Eldoret 188, Kisumu 134, Nyeri 109, Meru 80, Machakos 78, Kisii 64, Kericho 59, Kakamega 58, Bungoma 45, Kitale 38, Malindi 36, Migori 27, Embu 25 and Busia 15.
It is said the young lawyers will provide the swing vote which will determine who takes the day.