The launch of the Annual Voter Education Week, the Strategic Plan and other documents of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) marked the public start of concerted preparations for the 2022 elections.
During the launch, the chairperson highlighted critical plans the IEBC has prioritised to make the next elections credible.
A few weeks ago, this column called on the political class to give the commission space to deliver on its constitutional mandate. The launch of the strategic plan is key to the delivery of that mandate. The hard work, though, lies ahead in translating the intentions to reality.
Just like in the past, the commission always has clear ideas on how to ensure that the process of elections is predictable and objective so that the outcome becomes acceptable, free, fair and a reflection of the will of the people.
In the past though, in translating these plans to reality, complaints arise resulting in citizen disagreements, accusations and counter-accusations, violence, court action and disenchantment. Efforts must be put in place to increase confidence in and acceptance of the way the elections are conducted and the resultant outcome.
While delivering on the above desired outcome requires collective efforts of many actors, including voters, the political elite and political parties, the IEBC has a critical role to play.
Watching the launch at Bomas of Kenya this past week, I was struck by several things.
First, there is a need to increase citizen engagement and excitement with the electoral management process. Too often the direction of elections is dictated by politicians with their massive rallies, campaign slogans and posturing.
The consequence is that the quality of elections and citizens perception is determined by what the politicians state. This is dangerous as it clouds objective and honest engagement and assessment.
The voter education process is meant to give information on the voting process, enlightens citizens and encourage their active participation. This is what IEBC launched this past week. However, the levels of excitement and active engagement expected of a defining election like the 2022 one do not seem evident.
The IEBC should take note of this situation and reengineer its engagement processes and approaches to improve the levels of involvement of the citizenry in its activities.
Second, is the IEBC’s visibility. The levels of engagement with the public determine the support the commission receives. After the 2017 elections and partly due to the challenges that the IEBC faced including the resignation of the majority of the commissioners and departure of some key staff, the commission has been largely inward-looking. It is rarely heard and when it speaks, the message is neither clear nor consistent.
One of the greatest challenges that has always faced the IEBC is messaging and stakeholder engagement. Clear mapping of the key stakeholders, consulting them, not speaking at them and ensuring that the public is informed clearly of its plans and decisions must be prioritised to ensure the credibility of the next polls.
The legal framework is going to the greatest challenge. In the past, there have been stakeholder interest, push and discussions around electoral reforms.
This time though there seems to be either a conspiracy of silence, a lack of coordination or deliberate disinterest.
In 2017, after the first presidential elections, Parliament made changes to the election laws to respond to the judgment of the Supreme Court. These changes were responding to the situation then. Some of those amendments were subsequently declared unconstitutional.
The political class has its ideas and designs for the next polls. These may not always be in the public interest. It, therefore, behoves the IEBC to take leadership and increase its engagement, communication and help the country to make critical decisions to secure the credibility of the next polls.