IEBC faces party primaries acid test ahead of elections

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) faces a crucial credibility test Thursday as political parties hold their primaries ahead of the March 4 General Election.

The commission is under pressure to instil discipline and resolve disputes as parties pick their flagbearers for five elective positions — governor, senator, women representative, member of parliament and county assembly representative.

During an Election Watch Forum held in Nairobi Wednesday, experts said the extent to which IEBC tackles excesses arising from the nominations would be a pointer to how it was prepared to deliver a peaceful General Election.

“Kenyans will be assured of a peaceful election if the IEBC uses its full powers to deal with chaos and disputes expected during the primaries,” said Felix Odhiambo, a lawyer and country director for Electoral Institute for the Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

Unlike the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) that frequently lamented about lack of legal framework to deal with electoral offences and disputes, the tenth parliament handed IEBC powers to enforce the electoral code of conduct.

The powers are outlined in the 2010 Constitution, Elections Act 2011, Political Parties Act 2011, the IEBC Act and the Supreme Court Act.

Among other things, the legislations give IEBC powers to sanction and even to deregister parties that flout the electoral code of conduct.

The powers also outline heavy fines and jail terms for IEBC staff involved in malpractice.

Apart from the numerous positions — 1,882 in total — to be filled, the Constitution provides for a re-run of elections in 30 days should a clear winner fail to emerge.

Already, the IEBC and political parties appear to be reading from different scripts as to whether Friday is the last day to file their nomination list with the registrar.

“Kenya risks falling to the 2008 kind of violence and the chances will increase if the IEBC stumbles and fails to deliver credible elections” said Prof Peter Kagwanja, president of the Africa Policy Institute.

IEBC chief executive officer James Oswago assured the country of a peaceful General Election even as he acknowledged the enormity of the task ahead.

“Africa has conducted 22 elections since 2007 and only two of them turned violent. Kenya’s elections will be conducted to the best level Africa has ever seen,” said Mr Oswago.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) warned that growth in the manufacturing sector would slow down this quarter as investors adopted a wait-and-see attitude over the polls.

“Investors are holding their cards close to their chest as they await the outcome of the March elections because repeat of violence could bring the industry to its knees,” said KAM’s chief executive Betty Maina.

The sector says it lost Sh10 billion and more than 4,000 jobs, while the foreign direct investment plummeted by almost 75 per cent from $729 million to $183 million, in the 2008 post-election violence.

Experts, however, said IEBC’s ability to handle bribery and other offences had been limited by Parliament’s failure to pass the Campaign Finance Bill.

There is also a contention over which department — IEBC, Political Parties Dispute Tribunal or the High Court — has superior power in resolving political party disputes.