The Senate hit the ground running after resuming sittings last week with the Election Law (Amendment) Bill 2018 that went for a second reading. Sponsored by Narok Senator Ledama Olekina, the amendments sought to compel the Presiding Officer, candidates and agents to sign the declaration form at the polling station before proceeding to share them with the Returning Officer. While termed as a noble idea by his colleagues, most senators took issue with the finality that came with the signing of the forms especially in a case where there may be contention with the outcome.
A fact to appreciate with the discussions around this amendment Bill is the sober approach the Senators took towards it. The senators however reached consensus when they agreed to have the Section properly phrased before proceeding with the Bill.
“The problem isn’t reforms; it is us,” Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr said while contributing to the Bill’s debate. This statement summed up almost the entire house’s sentiments on election reforms and attests to the underlying issues that are continuously ignored. It is no secret that elections are a touchy subject in Kenya. It is a period shrouded with public mistrust, negative ethnicity, display of self-centeredness by leaders and laxity. It is the one time in every 5 years that influences the political temperatures in the year that precedes an election and the one right after it.
Tension has become synonymous with our general elections, especially in the multiparty era. Anyone who chooses to dispute this fact given the handshake period we’re in, just needs one look at the scars visibly worn by victims of election violence. They serve as a reminder of what elections actually mean in Kenya.
Our goldfish memory syndrome makes us forget the period that was August 2017 to January 2018, when an election was nullified and dozens of people hurt in the process. The Supreme Court cited irregularities in the electoral process that led to people questioning the custodian of the election, the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC). While the technology was said to be intact, it is the commissioners’ credibility and integrity that was spotlighted as leaders from the opposition accused them of serving the interests of specific individuals. As a result, the process leading to the commissioners’ appointment has been questioned severally as the selection panel that is picked at the discretion of the President. Given the Kenyan electoral history involving an incumbent, it is easy to see why one would refuse to be blind to the possibility of the executive’s influence on the outcome of an election.
If we’re going to have a conversation on election reforms, then we need to start questioning the timelines needed to put together a commission as we gear up to the next election lest we get swallowed up in the succession politics. Just to refresh your memory, the Chebukati-led team was sworn in in January 2017, just 7 months to the election. This was enough to raise red flags over the preparedness of a team to run a free and fair election.
This handshake mood is rife with opportunity to make such progressive reforms and ask the right questions before the inevitable political split happens. Because when it does, politicians will go back to their tactics of mud-slinging and negative ethnicity to cause divisions among Kenyans that will set the pace for the next election. We also need to discuss democracy and participation in political parties as the famous handshake seems to have rendered them toothless.
The onus is on Kenyans and the media to press legislators to push for reforms that will safeguard the Kenyans vote because politicians have proven time and again to be unreliable whenever change is required.