COUNTY POLITICS: IEBC helpless as party polls breed violence and death

A video recording widely shared on social media captured one of the more frightening incidents of violence from the ongoing party nominations.

A group of young men armed with pangas, clubs, hoe handles and other weapons raided a training session for ODM polling clerks and returning officers.

The participants were violently chased out, with one chilling incident appearing to show one of the assailants slashing a man on the head with a panga as he lay on the ground.

The incident last week at Rakwaro Seminary in Rongo Constituency, Migori County where renegade local ODM MP Dalmas Otieno faced a stiff challenge from Mr Paul Abuor, seemed to exemplify the pattern of violence that has dogged ODM nominations.

The party of key National Super Alliance leader and 2013 presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, has witnessed serious incidents of violence at its nomination polls across the country, particularly in its Nyanza region strongholds, but also in the Coastal counties, Nairobi and other places where the tickets for various elective seats are being fiercely contested.

But it not just ODM that has recorded violent incidents or threats to violence.

One of the more chilling incidents, again with video footage widely aired on social media, happened right in the middle of Eldoret Town where supporters of Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago staged a traditional ritual many interpreted as a call to violence.

Opinion was divided on the exact meaning of the ritual, that is usually performed exclusively by male initiates deep in the forest rather than in the middle of a busy street in front of women and children.

Some said it was simply a harmless unity and solidarity call for Mr Mandago’s supporters, in the face of a fierce challenge from Mr Zedekiah Buzeki Bundotich.

But there were those who disagreed, saying that ceremony and it’s links to a call for ethnic solidarity could in the context be interpreted as a call to arms, especially with the campaign showing signs of sub-ethnic rivalries in the cosmopolitan town.

By the time Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery stepped in on Monday with a warning that the security arms of government would step in aggressively to stem the spread of violence, the situation already appeared to be getting out of control.

Gen (rtd) Nkaissery spoke as a supporter of Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo was killed after being hit by a car she claimed belonged to her opponent.

And the ink had hardly dried on his warning when one person was shot and a vehicle belonging to Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’ stoned when protests erupted following the controversial declaration of Governor Cyprian Awiti as the ODM nominee after he had trailed in the count.

In Kirinyaga County where former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru was pursuing a closely-watched race for governor, there were violent disruptions as voters in the stronghold of her rival, incumbent Joseph Ndathi, stormed a polling station and set ablaze ballot papers in protest at names of some aspirants missing.

At the Nairobi Jubilee nominations on Wednesday, a young man was killed as he fled an attack from supporters of a rival campaign team in Starehe Constituency.

He was in a group putting up campaign posters for a party aspirant, when they were confronted by youth allied to a rival contestant.

“A confrontation ensued in which the two were stabbed,” Nairobi County police commander Japheth Koome said.

Mr Koome confirmed on Wednesday as Jubilee primaries kicked off in the capital city.

Gen Nkaissery directed the police to take tough action on anyone who sponsored or participated in violence, irrespective of political affiliation.

He said that the government would seek intervention of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to ensure that candidates who engage in violence or other electoral offences are barred from the General Election in August.

But that might well be the tricky part because the IEBC ought to be taking proactive action on its own volition without direction from any other agency, particularly the government which is itself an interested party in the elections.

While the electoral management body does indeed have the power to take action against election offenders, the tradition has been to do nothing ahead of the polls.

This means that candidates engaging in violence, bribery, oathing, intimidation and other offences usually have free rein in the run up to polling day, and will only be taken to task after the polls when the losing opponents file election petitions in the High Court.

The electoral commission also seems to be handicapped because it does not have the security machinery to record and investigate violence and impose sanctions against the offenders.

Whatever information it might get from media reports would not be admissible in court.

The Election Laws and the Election Code of Conduct actually give the electoral commission the power to disqualify individual candidates and political parties if they engage in violence and other offences.

Other penalties include monetary fines and banning from campaign activities, including rallies, marches, advertising and the display of posters, banners, billboards and publicity materials.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati has already warned that action would be taken against those engaged in violence.

At a meeting last Sunday, the IEBC boss reminded political party leaders that the Code of Conduct under the Elections Act, and the separate Election Offences Act, could be enforced to disqualify those breaching the law.

However, there is no indication as yet that the IEBC is moving firmly to stamp out violence and other offences at the party primaries.

One problem might be in the grey area defining the official electoral campaign period, as opposed to party nominations, when IEBC jurisdiction kicks-in.

It therefore is left to the police and other government security agencies to crack the whip using the regular laws against violence rather than the Election Offences Act.

But all too often, the police might be overwhelmed given the extent of electoral violence across the country as presently being witnessed in what could just be a small-scale dress-rehearsal ahead of the main elections in August.