Kenya: Raila and Ruto in new fight to control electoral commission

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Tuesday, 27 September 2022 12:40

Raila Odinga and William Ruto (Reuters and TAR)
Raila Odinga and William Ruto (Reuters and TAR)

Even before the election dust settles, a new battlefront has opened up pitting the two rival political coalitions over the control of the country’s electoral body, raising serious questions over its future. Which coalition will blink first?

On September 17, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) organised a retreat in Mombasa to evaluate their performance in this year’s general election.

The retreat included the four commissioners – Juliana Cherera (vice chairperson), Justus Nyang’aya, Irene Masit and Francis Wanderi – who had disputed the final presidential results announced by the chairperson Wafula Chebukati. The four later accepted the results after the Supreme Court upheld William Ruto’s victory.

“We thought the meeting would give us an opportunity to reflect on our performance and forge ahead as a united commission. Unfortunately, that did not happen,” says an IEBC employee who requested to remain anonymous since he was not authorised to speak to the press.

The differences between the Chebukati and Cherera factions were so deep rooted that they booked different holding rooms ahead of the ‘bonding meeting’.

“Chebukati’s anger against his vice chair has not died out. He criticised her and the other three commissioners prompting boos and cheers at the same time,” says the source.

Commissioners booed

Cherera also accused Chebukati of failing to protect them saying: “[…] we were booed as the chairman looked on. He did not even intervene.”

The fallout has raised serious concerns over IEBC’s capability to fulfill its constitutional obligations at a time when voter apathy is on the rise and trust in the electoral body at its lowest ebb.

Commissioners Chebukati, Guliye and Molu are supposed to go on leave ahead of retirement in January next year when their six-year term expires.

However, some legislators in the Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza Alliance want them to forfeit their leave and help push out the four commissioners.

“The new administration is uncomfortable with the dissenting commissioners taking charge of the electoral body after Chebukati retires hence the push to kick them out,” says the source.

Their six-year term ends in 2027 meaning they will be in charge of the next general election in which Ruto is expected to seek re-election.

Petitions filed in parliament

Legislators in the president’s camp fear the Cherera faction might work with their political enemies to “rig” them out in the next election.

The Farmers Party, affiliated to the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, has filed a petition at the national assembly seeking the removal of the Cherera faction “for gross violation of their oath of office”.

“The commissioners’ conduct amounted to a betrayal of public trust of the people of Kenya, thereby rendering them unfit to continue holding their constitutional offices and or acting as such,” says the petition.

It says the commissioners’ move to disown the presidential results was made for selfish reasons. “The commissioners proceeded with their treacherous scheme in the Supreme Court and swore affidavits based on falsehoods, a fact the court noted in its decision.”

Lawyers John Wangai and Kevin Kiarie have also lodged a petition seeking the removal of the commissioners, while Garissa Town legislator Aden Duale said he would file another petition once the full ruling of the Supreme Court is made public.

Duale, a close ally of the president, says the four commissioners should be disciplined “because their actions would have plunged the country into violence”.

“Presidential elections are very emotive and if not handled carefully can lead to violence hence parliament must deal decisively with the matter,” he says.

The four commissioners have however vowed to complete their six-year term, maintaining that they are being unfairly targeted.

Azimio vows to protect commissioners

Azimio La Umoja principals Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka have described the four commissioners as “patriotic Kenyans who stood up against Chebukati’s dictatorship”.

“Azimio will resist attempts by Kenya Kwanza and Chebukati to push out the four commissioners whose only mistake was to resist flawed presidential results,” says Musyoka who is also the party leader of the Wiper Democratic Movement.

IEBC has never been independent; it is always influenced by the political elite.

Unguja MP Opiyo Wandayi confirms that the two  principals have instructed Azimio legislators to resist any attempt by the new administration to interfere with IEBC.

“We know the politicians behind the Farmers Party petition belong to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party whose leader is the president. They want to interfere with the running of the commission. We will ensure their evil plans fail,” says Wandayi.

IEBC officer interdicted

The commission’s deputy CEO Ruth Kulundu, who is accused of “impersonation and arranging an unauthorised meeting for the four commissioners”, has been interdicted. The decision was made by the Chebukati faction, which also includes the CEO, Marjan Hussein.

The action has irked Azimio coalition legislators who have since demanded that Kulundu be reinstated, “or else the Chebukati faction will face unspecified consequences”.

“As Azimio we are ready to defend the rule of law and we want the lady’s case to be handled fairly and justice must prevail,” says the coalition’s nominated MP Sabina Chege.

Nairobi County Woman Representative Esther Passaris, who accuses Chebukati of impunity, echoed these sentiments saying: “We need to strengthen our independent institutions and we will stand firmly by the rule of law. We will not allow civil servants to be victimised.”

‘IEBC not independent’

Political analyst John Charo argues that the ongoing battle for the control of the IEBC is proof that the electoral body is only independent by name.

“IEBC has never been independent; it is always influenced by the political elite. Politicians know that if they have the support of the commissioners the chances of them winning the election is high,” says Charo.

If parliament approves the petition, President Ruto can either suspend the four commissioners pending the outcome of the complaint or appoint a tribunal to probe them

He observes that in the eyes of the public, the Chebukati faction is viewed as being sympathetic to the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, while the four rebel commissioners are seen as leaning towards the Azimio Coalition.

“The fight for control of the commission is just reinforcing the above perception in people’s minds. If we are not careful, the 2027 presidential election might be worse because of lack of trust,” says Charo.

Establishment of a tribunal

Political analyst Ochieng Onyango says the fight is expected to get messier since Kenya Kwanza controls both houses (national assembly and senate) and that chances of the petition by the Farmers Party being debated and approved are high.

If parliament approves the petition, President Ruto can either suspend the four commissioners pending the outcome of the complaint or appoint a tribunal to probe them,” says Onyango.

According to the law, the tribunal is expected to investigate the matter expeditiously and make a recommendation to the president who is required to act within 30 days.

“If the commissioners are removed from office the president will be required to publish a notice of vacancy in the gazette within seven days,” says Onyango.

However, the political analyst warns that the Kenya Kwanza Alliance will not have it easy since Odinga has vowed to lead Kenyans in overhauling both the IEBC and the judiciary before the next general election. Odinga accuses the heads of the two institutions – Chebukati and Chief Justice Martha Koome – of being ‘sympathisers’ of the new administration.

“Odinga will not allow the Ruto administration to do whatever it wants with the electoral body. He will definitely hit back. At the moment it is difficult to predict who will blink first.”

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