, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 14 – Free and fair elections are a mirage to many Kenyans; a far dream the country is not likely to see anytime soon. Post independence Kenya has not seen anything close to this. The mlolongo days are long gone but the makers of the new system know too well how to manipulate it.
Politicians have over years ridden over the electoral chiefs into their political glory. Rigging, voter bribery, campaign violence, multiple voting, missing forms…….are all domestic names in elections.
After the disputed 2007 elections and the indictment of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), most believed that the solution to the country’s problem was to send home the entire team of electoral officials. This was celebrated by many as a step towards clearing the mess of the county’s electoral process. It turned out, however, as only the easiest part in the long walk to reforms.
The Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) has just over 20 months to restore sanity into the process. It is mandated to come up with a new voter register, enforce a code of ethics, hire competent, honest staff, and create a foul proof system among other things.
However the team faces an uphill task of de-linking the process from the politicians who have for long puppetted the process. Indeed political grandstanding threatened to stall the process of hiring the new team. City lawyer Cecil Miller who had been nominated to chair it was rejected in parliament after heated debate and divisions.
Current wrangling within the coalition government as the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement seek to control government organs cannot also be swept under the carpet
IIEC Chairman Issack Hassan is however not deterred by the political interference and the history of elections in the country. The 39-year-old City lawyer is determined to shove political interference and succeed in the murky waters of elections. Having practiced law for the last 15 years and serving in the Constitutional of Kenya Review Commission Mr Hassan believes that he has what it takes to help the country regain electoral integrity. We caught up with him just as he set hands on the top hot seat.
Q. Do you think free and fair elections are possible in this country?
A. Yes I do, it’s absolutely possible. I know very well if the electoral rules are closely followed and there is no impunity from any party then we can get there.
I am hoping that we shall be able to conduct ourselves in a way that we shall be able to regain the trust and confidence of the Kenyan people. It is a matter of patience, let’s wait and see how it goes.
Q. Politicians have for years infiltrated the system and messed it up, how do you plan to maintain your independence?
A. We will engage the committee of experts (on Constitution review) so that we can come up with a very elaborate code of conduct on how MPs and Councilors will be nominated, elected and how they should conduct themselves during the campaigns. If enacted political interference would be a thing of the past.
Q. With the enormous work ahead what challenges do you foresee?
A. Kenyans expect us to be different from the former commission and lead electoral reforms. We will have to shun political interference and we will not allow ourselves to receive instructions from any quarters.
Q. What is the first thing you will be seeking to put your hands on?
A. The first thing will be coming up with a new voter register. That has of course implications on the pending by-elections in Bomachoge and Shinyalu constituencies. We will prioritise on these two. This will be a litmus test for the commission.
Secondly, we will engage the Committee of experts on other electoral reforms especially on the form of government the country needs.
Q. There have been proposals for online elections. With a fresh registration would you opt for such a system?
A. It is a very important aspect that will require a lot of expertise and funding and we we’ll consult widely. However that is a long-term goal which can be achieved. I believe it should be made a priority but I will defer that system to the permanent Commission coming after us. It will be impossible to achieve that dream within the interim mandate. We are still behind in technology and a lot of areas in the country do not have electricity and network coverage. So for now we will still go ahead with the manual one.
Q. One of your other responsibilities of setting up a new secretariat. Considering that the all staffs were fired how easy is it going to set up a new team?
A. This is an issue that the commission will consider carefully. However on my part we have to look at the pros and cons of the whole process. We have to know that we are losing important institutional memory by closing the door completely on everybody who worked with the former commission. We also might to have to engage former commissioners informally or in a seminar. But I don’t want to promise anything to former staff.
Q. The IT department at the ECK was found wanting, what plans do you have?
A. One of the commissioners is an IT expert and he will help to set up a very viable and reliable system of collecting data, storing it and making sure that its integrity is not tampered with. We are very keen to take lessons from what happened in the 2007 elections.
Q. As you take up the top seat what is your promise to Kenyans?
A. I am a very young person and I have a future to look forward in this country and much more I have a reputation to protect. So I will not do anything that will negatively impact my reputation.
I give the commitment that I will be very honest with Kenyans and maintain the integrity and independence of the commission. I will not be used, abused or misused by anyone. This is my country and I don’t want to see a situation that a decision I have made has caused another bloodshed.