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IEBC must assert itself and earn our faith in its fairness

IEBC Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba. (Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard)

I am waiting to understand how election campaigns will be conducted in the prisons. Elections are about candidates selling their agenda to the electorate and offering themselves for election. The understanding is that the candidates have free, fair and equal access to voters. They can, therefore, make a pitch to them and expect the votes. 

Now that we have decided that prisoners will also vote, concerned authorities should bring out the necessary information. First, how many prisoners are there in the country? In which prisons are they? How many of them are eligible to vote? How do we reach them to sell our candidacy to them?

What logistics will be put in place in each prison on voting day? How will citizens as interested parties know the right things have been done? How will candidates send their agents to prisons? The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is possibly walking us into a difficult spot that will return to haunt the country. Is Kenya really ready for voting by prisoners and — indeed — by the Diaspora? In a context where the competition is tight as we often hear it is, there is wisdom in avoiding situations that could blossom into post-election tinderboxes. Voting in prisons and in the Diaspora are two such situations.

The IEBC will do well to know that it is perched on the weighing scales of efficiency, independence and patriotism. All eyes are watching. The commission has the chance to live up to the promise of independence and the gift of dignity, or the choice of scandal and obloquy. It can choose to go the same disastrous way all the commissions before it have gone since reintroduction of political pluralism in 1991.

The Zaccheus Chesoni-led commission and that of Kivuitu went away with little to be proud of. While the Chesoni team completed its statutory term, it did not distinguish itself for anything useful. If anything, it was thought to have been an official lapdog of the Executive. However, it served its term and left.

The Kivuitu-led Commission was flaunted around as the textbook model of what electoral authorities should be. This was until the mask of efficiency fell off in 2007, revealing the horrendous face of Hephaestus — whose ugliness even his own mother could not withstand. The Hephaestus commission set Kenya on fire. It went away in shocking shame. The less said of the commission before the Chebukati one the better. Suffice it to say it stumbled from scandal to scandal, leading to its premature exit.

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Now all eyes are squarely on the new team. This week the commissioners cancelled a controversial tender that those who went before them had awarded to an Arab printer. They explained that this was intended to avoid delays because of contestations before the courts. Both the commissioners and other voices elsewhere have expressed disquiet over what they see as slowing down of electoral processes by the courts. At some point the impression is made that the courts are going into the streets with a lamp in broad daylight, looking for cases to make them slow down the IEBC.

Of course the courts cannot tell potential litigants to stop taking the IEBC and election-related matters before them. The very best the courts can do is to try to determine the matters as speedily as possible. It’s preposterous to suggest that the courts are slowing down the IEBC. Our case is that of a country whose political fraternity has long been used to a puppet Judiciary.

It must find it very difficult to reckon with a transformed and independent Judiciary. Courts are no longer at anyone’s beck and call. Such is the harsh reality all must accept. Indeed, it should be comforting to know that in the event the Chebukati-led commission does a Kivuitu on us we can turn to the Judiciary. We should therefore leave the courts alone, to do their work.

This is not something you hear the Executive urging us to do. Indeed, the Executive is distinguishing itself for grumbling about the Judiciary for no good reason at all. They expect the Judiciary to endorse the wrong things they do. Someone may for example order that police recruits who were corruptly engaged should report to Kiganjo for training, despite a court order annulling the process. Another one will get into procurement without following the procedures. When someone goes to court to stop them, they blame the Judiciary. Good grief! What is the Judiciary supposed to do? What the Judiciary is telling us is simple, “Do your work and let us do ours.”

But if the Executive is not good at advising us to let the Judiciary do its work independently, it is very good at telling us to let the IEBC do its work. You get the impression that the Executive could be the official mouthpiece of the IEBC. This is sending out the wrong message. Indeed the IEBC should be left alone to do its work. The challenge, nonetheless, rests with the commission. If it cannot get its act together, it must prepare for the consequences.

Part of the IEBC’s work is to speak for itself. It is important for the Executive to refrain from speaking for the IEBC. The electoral commission must find its own voice and learn to speak for itself. When the hawks within the Executive take over this role, they only buttress the perception in some quarters that they could be working together. This is not necessarily the case. Yet perception is everything in the court of public opinion.

In the event that the Opposition genuinely loses the August election it could be difficult to believe this was indeed the case, if the Executive does not refrain from behaving like the shield and defender of the commission. Going forward, everyone should give the commission a fair chance to do its work. This includes both the government and the opposition. When you blame them all the time, you shake our faith in them. When you usurp their right to speak for themselves, you also shake our faith in them.

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