The electoral commission Tuesday saved Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula’s political career after it refused to strike his name off the register of voters.
The decision means that Mr Wetang’ula — who is the Leader of the Minority in the Senate and one of the top three leaders in the Opposition coalition Cord — can now contest in next year’s General Election.
Mr Wetang’ula has already declared that he is interested in vying for the presidency, meaning that he will be competing with Mr Raila Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka for the coalition’s ticket.
Whoever wins the ticket will face off with President Uhuru Kenyatta at the ballot in August 2017.
NO COURT CONVICTION
Tuesday, a committee of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ruled that no court of law had convicted Mr Wetang’ula of an election offence to warrant his name being deleted from the voters’ register.
“We find that there is no lawful justification to delete the name of Senator Moses Wetang’ula from the register of voters,” IEBC commissioner Thomas Letangule said while reading the committee’s ruling in a Nairobi courtroom yesterday. “Senator Moses Wetang’ula has not been charged or convicted of any election offence.”
Mr Letangule was flanked by fellow commissioners Lilian Mahiri-Zaja and Mohamed Alawi during the ruling at a Milimani law court, which was packed with Mr Wetang’ula’s supporters and political allies, including Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka. The Cord leaders have in recent weeks demanded that the IEBC be reconstituted ahead of the next election.
Addressing a crowd outside the court after yesterday’s ruling Mr Odinga said: “Wezi tunawajua. Wale wanaotoa bribes wanajulikana. Tulijua kwamba huu ulikuwa mchezo tu (We know the thieves. Those who give bribes are known. We knew this was only a game).”
Earlier, while presenting the findings in the committee’s 42-page report, Mr Letangule had noted that the Supreme Court verdict on the senator’s voter bribery case had merely established election offences relating to treating and voter bribery.
“Nowhere in the report did the judges of the Supreme Court or any other court that considered this matter convict Senator Moses Wetang’ula within the meaning of Section 9 of the Elections Act,” he said.
The three commissioners noted that only a criminal court could convict the senator of the offences after giving him a hearing.
“The conviction envisaged under Section 9 of the Act requires instituting criminal proceedings, which process has safeguards in-built to protect the rights of an accused person. It is for the criminal court therefore to make that determination,” they noted.
The verdict elicited wild applause from Mr Wetang’ula’s supporters, prompting Siaya Senator James Orengo — who was leading the defence team — to plead with them to allow Mr Letangule to finish reading the ruling.
Addressing the court soon after the ruling, Mr Wetang’ula thanked the three commissioners and described them as “men and women of wisdom”.
“It has been a long and torturous road but even the darkest hour leads to a bright morning,” the senator said to applause from his supporters.
He also thanked Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka for standing by him at his hour of need.
Mr Orengo said the three commissioners who heard the case had delivered justice.
A decision to remove Mr Wetang’ula’s name from the register of voters would have had far reaching ramifications on his political career. For one, it would have locked him out of the 2017 General Election, which would have been a blow to Cord, as he is its pointman in western Kenya.
In arriving at their ruling, the three commissioners heavily relied on the submissions by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Keriako Tobiko, that there was no evidence to support criminal charges against Mr Wetang’ula.
They also noted the arguments by the defence that their client had never been convicted of any election offence.