By Eliud Owalo
Almost five years ago, now, the predecessor of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission (IEBC), the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK) was disbanded due to diminished public trust and confidence in its work.
The death knell fell on ECK because the agency bungled the 2007 Presidential Elections, resulting into devastating effects which remain largely unresolved both in the country and abroad. Thus, when Kenyans promulgated the 2010 Constitution, they ensured that the new supreme law provided in its Article 88, for the establishment of IEBC in order to restore Public confidence in the electoral process in the Country.
Clearly, the new electoral body was intended to preside over an electoral system that guarantees free and fair elections, which are not only transparent but also administered in an impartial, efficient, accurate and accountable manner.
However, during the short period of its existence, IEBC has already found itself in the kind of political mess its predecessor plunged into before the latterâ€™s disbandment. At present, public confidence and trust in IEBC leadership and performance has tremendously diminished. Indeed, public trust in the electoral agency is at its lowest ebb. And this is why.
First, in its efforts to prepare credible and functional systems including electoral voters register for the 2013 General Elections, IEBC failed to impress in many aspects. It ended up with multiple voters registers which was easily manipulated for fraudulent purposes.
The failure of IEBC to maintain a central credible voterâ€™s register gave rise to a lot of complaints from citizens who found their names either missing at their respective centers of registration or appearing in the wrong centers without notice. This issue came up at the Supreme Court during the hearing of the presidential election petition. It has also emerged in other election petitions involving candidates for other elective positions all over the country.
The case of Kethi Kilonzo of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), who has been barred by the IEBC Tribunal from contesting on grounds that she was irregularly registered, is instructive in this regard. It should be recalled that votersâ€™ registration including the maintenance of voters register and related election materials is the mandate and preserve of the IEBC and no other agency is mandated to act likewise.
Second, in the run-up to the 2013 General Elections, IEBC spent billions of Shillings in procuring Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits and other electronic based election materials, ostensibly to enhance transparency and efficiency while handling transmission of election results. The Net result of this effort was that billions of taxpayersâ€™ money was wasted because the BVR Kits proved defective and failed to function as early as 8a.m on the voting day.
Even prior to the procurement of these kits, the Country witnessed a display of serious conflict of interest, lack of control and division among officials of the IEBC over the right company to supply the kits. The Government eventually intervened in the procurement process and this intervention also raised further questions relating to conflict of interest on the part of some Government officials and agencies.
Third, again in the run-up to the 2013 General Elections, the IEBC working in tandem with the Registrar of Political parties, displayed worrying partisanship and partiality in settling inter-parties disputes, handling cases of party hoppers and as recently as July 2013 overt partiality was displayed in clearing two candidates, namely Prof. Philip Kaloki(Jubilee Coalition) and Kethi Kilonzo(Cord Coalition) to contest the Makueni senatorial by- elections, with the latter candidate being blocked on flimsy grounds of inconsistencies in the voter registration process which lay squarely within the domain of the IEBC.
Fourth, there is credible evidence that the IEBC failed to carry out the 2013 General Elections especially the Presidential polls in a transparent, impartial, neutral and accountable manner, hence, the Supreme Court election petition and the filing of so many election petitions in the Courts following the General Elections. The success of Kalembe Ndileâ€™s election petition is a harsh judgment on the performance of IEBC officials over election supervision.
Fifth, indisputably, IEBC is ridden with lack of leadership, professionalism, integrity as well as acceptable moral standings among its staff. In a nutshell, the electoral agency stands accused of partiality, negligence, slovenliness, wastage, partisanship and perpetuation of vested interests while conducting the elections and in handling election related disputes. These are grave accusations which are irredeemable within the framework and structure of the IEBC as is currently constituted.
Furthermore, the shortcomings, under-performance and incapacity of IEBC has been independently pointed out by other agencies. For instance, during the hearing of Presidential election petition at the Supreme Court, a ruling was made by the Court that IEBC needs to be audited to unearth apparent malpractices within the agency. Some political parties have also threatened to move to court to challenge IEBCâ€™s failure to release details of the 2013 election results as required by the law to enable the partiesâ€™ access the political partiesâ€™ fund and audit their own performance; among others.
The international observers to the 2013 General Elections, the media and the domestic legal fraternity as well as independent analysts have all concurred on serious failures and in-competencies exhibited by the IEBC which clearly emerged during the 2013 General Elections.
Finally, the latest developments attesting to the continued incompetence and partisanship of the IEBC have been witnessed in the agencyâ€™s preparation and conduct towards the upcoming Makueni Senatorial by-election. In this case, Safaricom has withdrawn its technical support services to IEBC, stating that the electoral body is ill- prepared to use such services. Still on the upcoming Makueni Senatorial by-election, a sinister complaint has emerged from Jubilee Coalition alleging that the Cord candidate, Kethi Kilonzo is not a registered voter hence is ineligible to contest.
The IEBC tribunal has upheld the Jubilee Coalitionâ€™s allegations despite the fact that it is IEBC that registered and issued Kethi with the clearance Certificate to contest, and more interestingly the IEBC Chairman is on record to have expressed ignorance of any missing Election materials as insinuated by the IEBC Director of voters Registration. These suspicious allegations which at that point in time had neither been reported to police, recorded anywhere or brought to the attention of IEBC itself, raises a lot of questions on the impartiality and credibility of IEBC as an independent referee in any electoral contest.IEBC has lost the moral authority to prepare for or oversee the conduct of any election in Kenya.
Therefore, IEBC must now be disbanded forthwith and appropriate options pursued in relation to the next general elections in Kenya, or any other election for that matter.