Court cases dog Kenya’s electoral process

President Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking a second term (Facebook / U. Kenyatta)

With just 19 days to the general elections, an unprecedented number of cases have been filed in Kenyan the courts, putting in doubt whether the presidential elections will be held on August 8th as per constitutional requirements.

Two more cases that target the system for electronic identification of voters and another on the backup system have been filed against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The first of these two cases is challenging the procurement process of the Biometric Voter Register (BVR) kits, while the second one is seeking to block the use of a backup system to the electronic system.

Early this month, a constitutional court stopped the printing of presidential ballot papers by Al-Gurair, a Dubai-based printer, on the ground that there was no public participation in the tendering process. The electoral body has appealed the court ruling to restart the process, saying that the court’s ruling cannot be implemented with only a few days to the general election. The ruling on the case is set to be made on Thursday.

In submissions made in court last week, lawyers for the IEBC told the Court of Appeal that if the commission is to follow the orders of the lower court to start the tendering process afresh, it will require 50 days to deliver voting papers in the country. By this time, the voting day of August 8th will have already passed.

It has now emerged that the electoral agency is looking for a new company to replace Al-Ghurair, should its appeal on the presidential ballot paper printing tender does not succeed. Media reports indicate that the IEBC have identified five firms that could be engaged to do the work instead of Al-Ghurair. The commission’s CEO was reported as having said that the agency was considering direct procurement should the ruling go against their wish.

These cases are putting pressure on the commission at a time when it should be concentrating on putting into place measures that will enable the delivery of a credible election to the satisfaction of all concerned parties. At the moment, there are fears that lack of a credible election might lead to violence as was witnessed in 2007-2008 because of disputed election results.

Yesterday, the commission received ballot papers from Al-Ghurair for five elective positions, but not for the presidential elections. Printing of presidential ballot papers was scheduled to start on Tuesday, according to the commission’s timetable released to the public earlier, but this could not happen because of the case pending in court.

Ballot papers for five elective positions – governor, senator, member of the national assembly, woman representative and ward representative – were unaffected by the High Court ruling, which stopped only the printing of the presidential papers.

Meanwhile, the commission has announced that it will publish the voter register for public inspection. A civil society organization has gone to court asking the court to compel the commission to do so.

The lobby group Africa Centre for Open Governance (AFRICOG) argues that the Elections Act and the elections voter registration regulations require IEBC to publish the register of voters within 90 days of the date of a general election for public inspection. This therefore means that the IEBC is already time-barred. The electoral body for its part says it is ready to hold elections, contrary to what the lobby group AFRICOG says.