The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is grappling with a number of challenges as it gears up for the politically volatile task of redrawing Kenya’s electoral map.
The commission has an unenviable mandate to increase or decrease the number of constituencies in the country.
Economic realities (read hardship) or population figures will guide the review, according to sources within the commission. However, political considerations could also greatly influence the outcome of the electoral boundaries’ review.
During the last review in 2012, a constituency was defined roughly by a population quota of 133,138, and if IEBC has to maintain this figure, then the likelihood of extra constituencies becomes high given the current population which is significantly higher than in 2009, during the last Census.
But the commission may be guided by the harsh economic realities and thus ease the burden by scrapping some wards and constituencies. Recent reports have indicated that about 30 constituencies — mostly from northern Kenya and Coast regions — do not meet the population quota.
IEBC says it will declare whether or not the delimitation will precede the 2022 General Election.
“But before that decision is made, the commission will have to assess the feasibility of having a successful exercise and the attendant risks,” according to a brief by the Boundaries Review Process Project Team.
The readjustment of the country’s electoral map has to take place every eight to 12 years. The last in 2012 saw the number of constituencies increase from 210 to 290. But according to experts in electoral matters, it’s highly unlikely that the broad-based consultative exercise will be complete before Kenyans head to the next elections in August 2022.
The last review took four years to complete. This time round, political intrigues peppered by the relentless succession politics will hang ominously on the exercise. Indeed, legal, political and logistical nightmare lies ahead of the project IEBC’s chairperson Wafula Chebukati has described as “one of the most sensitive processes in building of any democratic state”.
Depending on the commission’s readiness or not and the rising political temperatures, the electoral boundaries delimitation should be complete between 2020 and 2024. The IEBC brief “to initiate boundaries review process” grants the commission the “liberty to commence” preparations for the review “subject to availability” of the 2019 Census data.
The brief recommends a phased approach “given the intricate nature” of boundary review process in Kenya: Initiation Phase; Legal Review and Boundaries Harmonisation; Data Collection and Analysis; Reporting; and Finalisation. “It is advisable that the final roadmap should be arrived at through a consultative process,” the brief says.
Already, IEBC is behind the timelines it set for the exercise. The initial phase — that involves engaging stakeholders, undertaking background research, building capacity of staff and commissioners, and commencing the legal process — was to be implemented between April and December 2018.
According to insiders, the resignation of three commissioners — Ms Consolata Nkatha Maina, Mr Paul Kibiwott Kurgat and Mr Margaret Mwachanya Wanjala — has paralysed key operations at IEBC.
Among the issues IEBC is pondering with include the possibility of capping the number of seats and whether to align boundaries based on constitutional parameters or ethnic and political considerations. The volcanic passion for delimitation is because of the belief that it is linked to resource allocation and inherent risk of destabilising a region’s voting pattern.
According to the brief, “there are a number of legal issues that the commission and stakeholders at large must bear in mind before commencing the exercise … Will the constituencies remain the same at 290 or will the commission seek parliamentary constitutional review to either increase or decrease the number of constituencies to fulfil the socio-economic realities?”
Delimitation will definitely occasion the relocation of voters in particular areas. The looming loss or gain and realignment of ethnic voting explains why, already, political heavyweights have publicly expressed their fears over the exercise. Among them is Deputy President William Ruto.
As a presidential candidate, Dr Ruto may not be directly threatened by the delimitation but its likely bearing on voting patterns in constituencies countrywide is bound to determine his party’s parliamentary strength — especially if the country moves to adopt a parliamentary system in the envisaged referendum.
Nasa leader Musalia Mudavadi last year foresaw the ruling party influencing the review in its favour. “We are currently engrossed in lobbying for electoral justice and cannot trust IEBC with yet another undertaking. We have not even resolved the first issue and will accordingly not submit ourselves for another process by IEBC,” he said.
Press reports have highlighted IEBC’s errors of commission and omission that resulted in a flawed electoral process in 2017. The presidential results transmission system was manipulated to deliver false figures, the Fifth Column within IEBC raided the commission’s kitty through irregular procurement and skimmed of billions of shillings, and string-puppet commissioners engaged in self-destruction
Now, critics are concerned that a commission mired in deep financial indiscipline and which handily bungles elections will soon seek Sh8 billion to fund the exercise. Whereas some secretarial staff have left, the key players within procurement and ICT departments — the sectors that stole the August and the subsequent October 26 fresh presidential elections — are still around at IEBC headquarters in Anniversary Towers, Nairobi.
This explains why the IEBC brief seeks to first win public confidence for this crucial endeavour. It will launch a comprehensive communication strategy, engage in civic education and public awareness.
IEBC has identified inherent risks that could disrupt the exercise and detailed probable solutions. Unpredictable political developments, chicanery among staff, unauthorised access to technology, and non-procurement of requisite equipment are all ranked “high”, implying that they are very likely to happen during the delimitation.
Owing to the risks, IEBC proposes to establish Boundaries Review Commission comprising the commission’s chairperson and all commissioners to manage the processes. The team “will make policy proposals that will include but not limited to the names and boundaries of each constituency and the number, names and boundaries of each ward”.
It’s also possible that the commission will establish a 15-member Panel of Experts drawn from various disciplines. This envisaged team will include foreigners.