The report by the joint team on electoral reforms chaired by Senators KiraituMurungi and James Orengo that saw electoral reform laws passed unanimously in both Houses gave Kenyans the much needed impetus to regain their trust in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at a very crucial moment. But those efforts now seem to be under threat.
IEBC officials have expressed fears of failure to meet key deadlines especially linked to procurement processes to obtain equipment necessary for the poll. Citing their strategy paper, the electoral commission admits the task ahead is likely to be difficult because of strict deadlines set for the allocation and distribution of polling stations as well as managing the acquisition and implementation of technology.
This is quite a blow considering the Ipsos poll commissioned by the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) on September 18th revealed a disturbingly low confidence level in IEBC’s preparedness to handle the 2017 elections.
Perhaps we should briefly re-visit the challenges in last general elections to understand the gravity of the matter. Kenya nearly succumbed to another post-election violence (PEV) in 2013 after IEBC experienced challenges with the technology on display. Subsequent investigations later pointed out late acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR), poor training of the IEBC staff handling the technology, including Electronic Voter Identification (EVID) kits.
In the 2013 General Election, the failure of the electronic system meant to transmit results was a major debacle that informed IEBC’s decision to go back to a manual system. That we never learnt from this and are facing the same challenge yet again is a debate for another day, but first things first. Majority of the electorate in Kenya hold unsubstantiated myths about the management of the upcoming elections that need to be debunked.
One of them is that we shall be having an e-voting system. That’s not true. Voting will be done manually, and the electorate should therefore have no reason to mistrust how the voting exercise will be undertaken. Technology will be used to only aid the process and not replace it. The technology employed will be used to register, identify voters and eventually transmit results.
Secondly, there are fears that there’s little that has been done to prevent changing actual results, especially presidential votes. According to the new law, results, including presidential will be announced at the constituency level, however national tallying of results from all constituencies will be made by a returning officer appointed to carry out the process in the required format.
Now that we’ve made sense of that, IEBC needs to quickly prioritize their activities. That the law allows for political parties to seek their services does not mean they have to abide, especially when it is clear their plate is quite full. But if they must preside over party nominations then they should be firm on the timelines. While the law says the Political Party shall submit its party list to the commission at least 45days before the elections, IEBC can in light of the glaring challenges, inform all Political Parties intending to have them run their elections that they will only be able to manage those elections at an earlier period to avoid what is now referred to as a logistical nightmare for the electoral commission.
As for the acquisition of new equipment, the main challenge really is demarcation of roles of the Secretariat versus the Commissioners. The Secretariat’s function is administrative and indeed procurement falls under that. Anything else is politics unless the integrity of the Secretariat is also in question. IEBC should be able to make this clarification and work within the stipulated timelines while keeping all critical stakeholders briefed. Good-will of all arms of government especially the Executive and Parliament is vital to address the bottlenecks.
Having said that, it is too soon and rather knee-jerk for IEBC to want the new electoral reform laws amended to suit their challenges. It beats the whole point of reforms. Instead the presidency and the relevant bodies should speed up the exit of the Isaac Hassan team and have a new team in place soonest possible to mitigate some of these challenges.