NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 15 – With only 173 days left before the August General Election, key court rulings have left the electoral body between a rock and a hard place.
Against the setback rulings, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has to keep in mind strict adherence to the constitutional requirement that the 2017 General Election should be held on August 8.
Contempt of court is not a choice for the Commission.
Monday’s ruling in which the High Court cancelled the electoral commission’s Sh2.5 billion ballots printing tender awarded to a Dubai-based firm, has a grave implication on the commission’s election preparation plans, both financially and time wise.
IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba stated that the ruling had ‘huge implications for the next elections.’
That ruling means the Commission has to start the long process of re-advertising the tender and repeating the entire process with only about six months before the elections.
But how will the Commission cope with the ruling mindful of the strict timelines and the constitutional guidelines?
According to lawyer and political analyst Charles Kanjama, IEBC should act fast by either obeying the court orders or swiftly moving to court to challenge them.
“IEBC is so busy during the next six months, they have so many timetables and if their resources are diverted to come back to the issue of tenders – and the timelines are made tighter, it will exert pressure on them,” he explained.
Though IEBC has its timelines, it does not have immunity of court decisions hence according to Kanjama, it has to be prepared to deal with them as they come.
“The court has powers to intervene, it’s a question of ensuring that all parties are sensitive to the rigid timelines and do not displace the ability of IEBC to deliver free and fair elections in August.”
In his view, it is the right of the court to intervene hence the importance of ensuring that there is better engagement between the Judiciary and Commission.
A second ruling that interfered with IEBC’s plans for the August General Election was a case presented before a Kericho court in which a petitioner wants the time by which public servants intending to vie for elective posts to resign reduced from six to two months to the elections.
The case will be heard on February 27 yet the deadline stated for such resignations was February 7.
Still on Tuesday – when the Mass Voter Registration exercise was supposed to be ending as per the IEBC’s timelines – the High Court in Nairobi ordered for its extension by two more days following a suit filed by activist Okiya Omtatah.
Even with the court injunctions landing on IEBC’s table, its enormous and imperative role and responsibility to ensure elections are conducted in August 2017 and they are free, fair and credible will not change.
Changing the date of elections furthermore, will mean a constitutional crisis.
According to Kanjama, whereas IEBC had made serious efforts to engage and consult key players in its election preparation plans, it may have left out the Judiciary, probably the reason why numerous decisions emanating from different courts are directly interfering with its timelines.
“What we are finding now is a situation where it seems other actors who are not fully informed about what IEBC is doing are making decisions that may challenge the ability of IEBC to deliver free, fair and transparent elections,” he elucidated.
The IEBC’s legal team, he advised should make more efforts to reach out to the elections committee in court to create better understanding on some of the cases coming before the court especially those with heavy impact on the commission’s timelines.
On the other hand, Kanjama found that the decisions made by the court were an illustration of its independence.