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Kivuitu opposes overhaul of electoral system

NAIROBI, August 1 – Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) Chairman Samuel Kivuitu Friday expressed misgivings over a proposal for an immediate overhaul of the electoral system, instead calling for step-by-step changes to the law.

Kivuitu, who was testifying before the Kriegler-led Independent Review Commission (IREC) probing the disputed Presidential poll, proposed the creation of a special commission to look carefully at necessary reforms, which would then be subjected to a national referendum.

He cited disparities in constituency populations and size and the messy political parties, as issues that the country needs to address as it seeks to amend the electoral laws, which have remained a bone of contention for years.

Kivuitu said: “Supposing you just introduce the Party List System, what will you do with Embakasi which has 345,000 voters? Secondly, remember that our parties are not that honest, somebody is elected in the grassroots during nominations and then the boss of the party comes to the Chairman and brings another person!” 

The ECK is at the centre of the disputed presidential election results.

During the public hearings, IREC was told of numerous anomalies that happened during the polls, including multiple voting and tally manipulation.

Though appointed to probe the disputed presidential election results, the Kriegler Commission is expected to make recommendations of the necessary electoral reforms to be undertaken to avert a similar situation in the future.

The Commission has organised a series of technical workshops meant to allow it to interact with professionals and other interested parties in matters relating to Kenya’s electoral system as a way of enriching its report and recommendations.

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Presenters at the first workshop rooted for the abolishment of the current system (Majoritarian) which they blamed for heightening ethnic and regional tensions in the country. The Proportional Representation (PR) system got the most support.

Both the commissioners and participants dismissed the current presidential system and backed the parliamentary method, which they said is likely to demystify the Executive and unite the country as anyone wishing to be elected President would need the support of almost all regions.

In her presentation, deputy Chairperson of the Kenya Law Reform Commission, Nancy Baraza, noted that PR allows minority groups to be represented in Parliament.

“PR has the ability to reflect more accurately the preferences of voters in terms of seats in Parliament,” she said.

Under PR, political parties are assigned a number of parliamentary seats commensurate to the support they have received in a given electoral district.

Concerns have however been expressed on the shape of governments that result from PR systems, most of which are coalitions. Coalitions after elections generally appear weak, as partners lobby for individual interests and the will of the electorate is rarely reflected.

To counter this, Baraza proposed a Mixed Member Representative System, which is a combination of the Majoritarian and PR. In this system, a portion of seats is filled through single member plurality while the rest is filled according to party strengths.

“To ensure women’s representation, the party lists should ensure gender parity by alternating the names of men and women.”

At the workshop, the Commission’s chair Justice Johann Kriegler warned that changing the system alone would not be a solution to the political crisis.

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"Systems do not solve societal problems, societies solve societal problems. Accountability comes from actively involved voters saying; ‘what did you do with the mandate that we gave you?” the judge stated.

The Commission continues with the workshops next week, where other topics lined up for discussion include registration of voters, political parties, ECK’s organisation and structure, regulation of electoral campaigns, dispute-resolution and the role of the media.

After concluding the workshops, the commission will then enter the final phase of factual hearings where witnesses will be cross-examined.

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