Kenya: Election board under pressure ahead of rerun

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati

Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is scrambling to meet deadlines for holding a repeat presidential poll later this month amid reports of internal divisions at the commission and opposition pressure to sack the board’s chief executive.

By a majority decision of four judges the supreme court last month annulled the August 8th presidential election and ordered a fresh vote within 60 days. The court determined there had been substantial “irregularities and illegalities” in the poll, citing the IEBC’s decision to announce election results before being able to verify them. The judges also pointed to security lapses such as the absence of water marks, signatures or serial numbers on some tally forms.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had won the contest by 1.4 million votes, according to the IEBC.

The opposition National Super Alliance, or NASA, is threatening to boycott the October 28th rerun unless IEBC Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba is sacked for his role in overseeing the faulty August poll. Opposition leaders last week called for supporters to take to the streets against the IEBC.

NASA secretariat head Norman Magaya explained in an interview with the BBC on October 1st, “The commission is supposed to be in the process of preparing for a fresh election. The supreme court found as a matter of fact the commission committed illegalities and irregularities. These were committed by specific individuals at the commission. So the commission cannot proceed to be preparing for a fresh election using the same people who bungled the election in August.”

Both the IEBC itself and the outside European Union election observer mission in Kenya have urged the opposition to tone down its rhetoric against the elections board. IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati appealed to Magaya in an open letter dated September 25th, asking for talks rather than protests, in order to discuss reforms that the IEBC says it is making, while also acknowledging the protesters’ “inalienable constitutional right to picket and demonstrate.”

“Escalating tensions risk derailing the election.”

European Union observers stated Tuesday, “The intensifying accusations between political rivals and against the institutional pillars of the democratic process, in particular the judiciary and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), have led to escalating tensions and risk derailing the election.” They added, “Excessive demands, which cannot be met by the IEBC, place an extraordinary burden on the institution and escalate tension and antagonism in the election.”

However, NASA’s Magaya insists that the vote won’t happen at all unless Chiloba is removed: “You cannot doubt our resolve. I can assure you… that Ezra Chiloba will go, and in not more than seven days to come. He will go. So he should not chest thump… we are saying that if the status quo remains there will be no election.”

“We have both legal and extralegal – both constitutional and extraconstitutional avenues – to achieve our objective. And I can tell you without an iota of doubt that when we say there will be no election it simply means that there will be no election,” added the opposition leader.

In the meantime, Kenya’s chief prosecutor has ordered police to investigate irregularities at the election board but has not yet found anyone individually liable. The prosecutor on Tuesday also ordered an investigation of six staff at telecom company Safaricom over “possible offences” in the handling of a contract between the company and the IEBC relating to data transfer and storage.

IEBC internal developments

Chiloba himself admits to “systemic” failures at the election board as found by the supreme court, but declines individual responsibility. He says it is important that he remain in his position in order to oversee the rerun that will take place later this month. The IEBC chief executive faced pointed questioning from his chairman, however, Wafula Chebukati, in a memo leaked to the press last month. Chebukati’s memo listed 12 major concerns, including violations of electoral procedures for results transmission, demanding answers and also also asking for the suspension of ICT director James Muhati and two other ICT staff.

In a television interview with NTV Kenya, Chiloba confirmed the authenticity of the leaked memo but downplayed the concerns raised by the chairman. Separately, a group of four other commissioners published their own memo also downplaying the gravity of violations and saying that Wafula’s internal memo did not represent the commission as a whole: “A quick perusal of the memo shows that the allegations are based on some report or information that has not been brought to the attention of the Commission. Most of the issues raised are not factual and could easily misled if taken out of context. However, the Secretariat is reviewing the issues…”

Kenyan media interpreted these developments as signs of divisions within the election commission. The Standard newspaper suggested in a report on September 8th that Chiloba has taken measures “sidelining” Chiloba, pointing to the decision to name a special team to oversee the October 18th poll. Similarly, Bloomberg News on September 29th reported serious divisions within IEBC, citing a source within the commission.

“Some senior members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission will refuse to take part in a new election as things stand,” reads the report, which also questions whether the court-ordered timetable for the rerun will be met under the current circumstances.

Kenya’s Anglican Bishops, in the meantime, have called for the removal of IEBC officials who bungled the August 8th elections, without naming any names. “In order to avoid the possibility of another bungled election, IEBC must do everything within its power to cleanse itself and take corrective action, including exclusion of those who failed in their duties during the last elections,” they recommended in a statement last week.

Talks are continuing between the IEBC and the opposition and ruling parties. Chairman Wafula Chebukati told reporters Tuesday in the capital that the electoral commission made progress on meeting the opposition demands. “Most of the issues raised by NASA have been addressed by the commission,” he said. “We shall publish what we have agreed with the NASA team so that we can move on with the major part of giving Kenyans elections on Oct. 26.”