The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) recently attained the quorum threshold following the appointment of four new members to the commission by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Their appointment comes after the four namely, Ms. Juliana Wihonge, Mr. Francis Mathenge Wanderi, Ms. Irene Cherop Masit and Justice Abonyo Nyangaya were vetted and approved by Parliament. The four now await to be sworn in by the Chief Justice with a plate full of tasks to be undertaken in preparation of next year’s general election.
Elections are viewed as the hallmark of democracy by way of generating public debate, shaping the public policy agenda, selecting representatives, determining the composition of Parliaments and influencing the distribution of power in government. A free, fair and successful democratic electoral process largely hingers on a clear, consistent and comprehensive legal framework and its implementation to the letter. IEBC is the single institution that comes under a lot of scrutiny and fire, in some cases, owing to the heated nature of Kenya’s elections. Almost all general elections in Kenya have been marred by ethnic conflict, violence and destruction of properties, which revolves around election management. It is no surprise that all attention now shifts to the four new commissioners and the current three who are expected to deliver free, fair and accurate polls.
The fully constituted commission now must hit the ground running in preparation of the 2022 elections. First, the commission is required to conduct mass registration and education of voters as stated in Article 88(4)(a) of the Constitution. A considerable number of youth have attained the voting age, 18 years, since the last election in 2017 and are yet to be registered as voters. This demographic is likely to make up the biggest chunk of voters in next year’s elections. It is, therefore, critical that the commission acts with speed to reach the masses countrywide with a clear sensitization programme on the election. To achieve this, the commission would have to hire officials to undertake the task. To this effect, IEBC put out an advertisement on 21st August 2021 for interested persons to submit their applications.
Party primaries are another important aspect in an electoral process since they determine which candidates will appear on the ballot papers for the respective seats. Party primaries have also been characterized with disputes owing to the role that party popularity plays in one’s chances of clinching a seat. Isaac Mwaura, who was axed from the Senate earlier this year, had sponsored the Political Party Primaries Bill, 2020 that seeks to put in place a legal framework for the conduct of the political party primary. In the absence of this Bill, IEBC is still well within its mandate to secure the integrity of party primaries and fairness for aspirants who may choose to use that route.
In handling the party lists that will be submitted to the commission, IEBC will also have the task to ensure fair gender representation. If overlooked, an imbalanced party list could ultimately lead to an imbalanced gender representation of members at county assemblies and the national Parliament.
The party lists present a potential battle ground between IEBC and aspirants for the MCA and MP seats who may not possess a degree as is required by Section 22 of the Elections Act 2011. In 2017, the implementation of this requirement was postponed to allow candidates to acquire these qualifications before 2022. IEBC moved to court last month to quash a case seeking to overturn the degree requirement saying that the move would be absurd and would be an offence to the Constitution. The push has also come through Parliament, with a petition tabled in June requesting the house to repeal Section 22 of the Act. The petitioners’ prayers might have been answered, not in the form of a committee report, but two new Bills read the first time in the Senate yesterday. The Bills by Senators Kipchumba Murkomen and Ledama Olekina state that they seek to provide for inclusivity in elections since the degree requirement threatens to lock out many potential candidates. The conclusion of the petition in court and Parliament’s decision on the Bills would, therefore, be critical to follow to see if Section 22 of the Elections Act 2011 would finally be in play in a general election and how that would impact the polls.
While the IEBC might have jumped over the quorum hurdle, the commission still faces the challenge of having sufficient funds to undertake their mandate fully. The commission currently has pending bills amounting to more than Ksh2 billion that could greatly hamper their preparations for next year’s polls. They blame the Treasury for delays in disbursement of funds to enable them clear the bills and run their operations optimally. The Treasury through its Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani committed to clearing pending bills during the budget reading. They should hold their end of the bargain to avoid any delays that may ultimately affect how elections are run next year. IEBC should in turn ensure everything is done by the book, including procurement of electoral technology, to ensure a peaceful elective season.