Elections are 442 days away. There is no much time left if you compare the situation now and how it was in the run-up to 2013 General Election. Two questions that linger are: How prepared is the IEBC? How prepared is the country for the next elections?
On the first question, the Commission has always informed the country that it is on course preparing for the next elections. Amidst the heightened political debate on the future of the Commission, we must always remember that operational preparedness is the most significant in any electoral process.
The National Independent Electoral Commission of Congo (CENI) has just announced that it is not ready to conduct presidential elections to be held in December 2016. It claims that it needs about USD 1 billion (Sh100 billion) and about 16 months to register voters and commence other electoral processes.
This is not the situation that I would want to see Kenya. That is why, as a country, we must keep on preparing and investing in the electoral process at all times.
The IEBC rolled out the 2017 GE Elections Operations Plan in January this year. The plan, which was published widely, sets out the priorities for legal reforms, voter registration, voter education, electoral technology, voting operations, stakeholder engagement, results management, funding, procurement, among others. The priorities are based on the lessons learnt in the 2013 General Election. This EOP was a major milestone and we must be faithful in its implementation.
Four months after the launch of the EOP, the Commission has conducted the first phase of voter registration. The data is being processed for purposes of inspection and certification as required by law. The next mass voter registration exercise will be undertaken early next year to ensure that all eligible Kenyans are given the opportunity to register before the elections.
The Commission has also been in the forefront on electoral legal reforms. The Elections Amendment Bill is now at the 2nd reading in the National Assembly. The amendments address gaps that exist in voter registration, party nomination, qualification of candidates, among others. It is now upon the National Assembly to fast-track enactment of the proposed amendments. Timely enactment will allow for effective implementation.
Results management is core to the credibility of the electoral process. As prioritized under the EOP, the process of streamlining elections results management has commenced. By August this year, the Commission hopes to have the framework endorsed and adopted by all stakeholders. In addition, acquisition of electoral technology is expected to start in time in the hope that all technology must be tested at least six months before the elections.
This week, the Justice, Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly endorsed the Commission’s 2016/17 budget. The Sh19 billion budget caters for programmes geared to-wards the 2017 General Election. Once approved by the National Assembly, the Commission will be in a better position to procure electoral materials and equipment in good time. Now with a stronger procurement unit and improved system in public financial management, every shilling allocated must give us more value and must be accounted for.
On the second question on whether the country is prepared for the next elections, I must say that I highly doubt. The extent of political polarisation is worrying. Although history seems to be repeating itself, I still believe there are opportunities to enable the country move forward. Critical players must be able to take their roles to instill confidence in the electoral process.
Political parties must responsive to people’s voices especially on nomination. Parliament must fast-track electoral law reforms and allocate enough resources to the Commission. The Judiciary must continuously strengthen its capacity to deal with election related disputes. Security agencies must ensure that the electoral process is undertaken in an environment of peace without compromising basic principles of democratic participation.
Citizens must be well informed to effectively participate. The private sector and religious leaders have a role to play in mediating differences across the political divide. The Executive must ensure that Commission is fully resourced. The media must report on the electoral process in a way that inspires confidence and not fear among ordinary citizens.
The current debate must go beyond looking at the Commission and reflect on operational ingredients for credible elections. Despite the pressure that the Commission experiences, it has made significant progress in identifying priorities that are key to successful elections. We must deliver on these priorities.
(Chiloba is the Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission)