With hours to the eagerly awaited General Election, the need to keep peace is imperative. The election is highly anticipated since President Kibaki will leave office as per the two term constitutional requirement and world over, succession politics are always competitive and sometimes even nasty.
In Kenya, the succession politics is even more competitive as the two main frontrunners, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are from two major communities in Kenya which have rarely had a cosy political relationship.
Their political relationship is akin to that of their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga, which was largely bittersweet. Further, Uhuru Kenyatta, is facing charges at the International Criminal Court over the 2007/2008 post election violence and with the previous debate on whether he would vie or not, 2013 general election is largely a referendum on whether the charges facing him at the ICC are political or not and also whether international justice is used to politically prosecute some sections of African leaders or not.
In this regard, many efforts, constitutional, institutional and both public and private initiatives have been put in place to ensure that Kenya does not degenerate to violence like in the 2007 general elections.
Constitutionally, the current Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission have the sole and independent mandate of overseeing election and they are unlike the former Electoral Commission of Kenya which right from its composition, it was predisposed to external manipulation by either the executive or parliamentary arms of government.
Therefore, even as the CORD and Jubilee alliances battle for votes, the IEBC must ensure that it conducts its affairs beyond reproach and that it instils confidence in the voters. For IEBC to do so , it must firmly enforce its constitutional powers and enforce both the Election Act and Political Parties Act. On this, it’s vital that the IEBC reassure Kenyans that no rigging of whichever nature, either software or hardware will occur on Monday.
As an example, the CORD alliance, led by Raila Odinga has made various allegations of attempts to rig elections by the Head of Civil Service , Francis Kimemia. When analysed in detail, these allegations against Kimemia appear far-fetched, not substantive and would largely not hold water in a court of law as they are being bandied by CORD in a manner that is sensational and dramatized. I state so because when any alliance, politician or a voter has legitimate reason to suspect that electoral fraud will be committed, he first must report his fears to the IEBC as this is the body that is constitutionally mandated to deal with such issues.
The first step would not be to whip people’s emotions in public rallies without tangible evidence that votes will be stolen or to demand resignation or sacking of any individual as this will easily be construed as black propaganda.
However, this does not mean that IEBC should not investigate these allegations. IEBC should quickly investigate these allegations up to their logical conclusion as the delay or inertia to tell the public whether Kimemia is culpable or not and whether CORD is lying or not touches on the integrity of the electoral process. When voters are uncertain of whether IEBC can conduct impartial election or not, it creates a stage for rejection of poll outcome regardless of the fairness of the voting process as seen in 2007. With rejection of poll outcome, this creates a window for violence and destabilization of the nation as seen in 2007/2008.
Therefore, to avoid a situation where allegations of vote stealing are made in a manner that is sensational and reckless, the IEBC needs to formulate clear guidelines on how such allegations should be channelled and also put a timeline on when to address such allegations. Failure to do so, IEBC will be subjecting civil servants, as seen with Kimemia, to unfair and unnecessary contest with politicians as civil servants cannot respond to these allegations in public rallies whereas politicians are having a blank cheque in political rallies to abuse them.
In addition, it’s a common phenomenal world over that during elections, propaganda is one of the campaign tool used by politicians to win votes and therefore IEBC must be strict on politicians who make allegations of vote rigging with intent to discredit their capacity and to demoralize voters from participating in the voting process. Above all, IEBC must also be tough on anyone found to have perpetuated electoral fraud.
(Mwangi is a lawyer and researcher at CPS Research International)