All eyes on MPs as debate on control of IEBC emerges

 

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati (right) with Commissioner Abdi Guliye address a press conference in Nairobi on June 11, 2019. [File, Standard]

The composition of the IEBC is at the centre of an emerging debate over 2022 elections as the two wings of the ruling Jubilee Party position themselves for the battle ahead.

On Thursday, MPs passed the IEBC (Amendment)(No.3) Bill 2019, which gives the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) majority four slots in the seven-member panel to appoint commissioners to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Suspicions have now emerged that since allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and those of his Handshake partner, ODM leader Raila Odinga control Parliament, they could use the opportunity to infiltrate the selection process.

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While Deputy President William Ruto’s allies warned against any such attempts, those from the Kieleweke wing of Jubilee dismissed the claims, arguing that the Bill was the brainchild of Baringo North MP, William Cheptumo when he was the chair of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee.

Cheptumo is a Ruto ally.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany yesterday said they were aware that some people were planning to control the IEBC, hoping they can use it to control the elections in their favour.

“We have confidence in the people and their votes. We will not seek any favours with the commission, we will talk to the voters, they are the ones who will decide the winner,” Kositany said.

The Bill is now awaiting a presidential assent. The selection panel will name four commissioners to replace those who resigned after the contested 2017 elections.

The new commissioners together with three others currently in office will oversee the 2022 elections and a possible referendum under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah said anyone imagining they can control an electoral commission in their favour to subvert the will of the people is living in the past.

“It will not be the commissioners to vote in the elections but the people of Kenya. I would advise anyone with such thoughts to focus on the people and solutions to issues that concern the people to win elections, not subversion of our hard earned democracy,” he said.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said their interest was on the players and not the referee in the game.

He said those who think they would rig the election would be in for a rude shock because the times had passed and every voter will have a say in 2022.

“There are those who are perennial losers but do not admit that they lost. Let them control the referee and the system and we remain with the people, then we will see in 2022,” said Gachagua, another Ruto ally.

The MP said they were not worried at all as they were covering the country slowly and empowering voters.

“When we are moving around the country, they are planning and scheming. When we win the election, they will start crying foul, their script is known,” Gachagua said.

Good faith

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu however said the Tangatanga faction was in charge of the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee when the Bill was drafted.

“They are crying early. They were the ones in charge of the process at the beginning, so if there is anyone who wanted to control the IEBC, it is Tangatanga,” Wambugu said.

Cheptumo however said building an institution like IEBC needed good faith and intentions.

“We need to learn to build institutions for posterity and not for short-term gains. If we fail, such agencies like IEBC are an easy recipe for chaos,” he said.

Cheptumo said although the Senate made a few amendments but with good intentions, the Bill is good and will ensure the vacant positions will be filled well.

During debate in the House on Thursday, Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Muturi Kigano said the Bill, once signed by the president into law, will clear the way for a referendum and cushion the country against a constitutional crisis.

“The amendment may look small but it has very wide ramifications in our governance and society. If for example, there was to be any vacancy in the composition of IEBC as it is today, we will have constitutional disorder. That is what the amendment has come to cure. This is the route for the BBI and any other future amendments and voice of Wanjiku to be heard,” the Kangema MP said.

Committee vice-chair Otiende Amollo said the move will allow Parliament to fill the four vacancies at IEBC and clear the way for the departure of the three sitting commissioners.

“If we adopted this and it is signed into law, there is no reason why we would not proceed to deal with the IEBC commissioners most of whom many people have expressed disquiet about, but we cannot deal with them until we have appointed new commissioners.”

Majority Leader Amos Kimunya urged the House to pass the Bill “to clear the way for other processes that affect the IEBC so that the credibility of the electoral body can become clear.”

Historically, the process of appointing electoral commissioners has always been controversial, with key political players crying foul.

After 2013 elections, for example, Raila Odinga led demands to have the former commission, then led by Issak Hassan, overhauled and a new one put in place.

They argued that the commission was biased in favour of the incumbent and could not be trusted to deliver a free and fair election.

Daily demonstrations at the IEBC offices ultimately forced the government to disband the commission.

In 1997, former President Daniel Moi bowed to pressure from political parties and the civil society to form an Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) that paved way for parties to participate in nomination of commissioners to the then Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).

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