Experts oppose Chebukati's staggered polls proposal

Sunday February 17 2019

iebc

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission boss Wafula Chebukati. He wants to promote efficiency during elections. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

OSCAR OBONYO
By OSCAR OBONYO
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The proposal by the electoral body to have elections conducted on two separate days instead of one day, as currently stipulated in the law, is bound to radically change the course of polls with far-reaching effects.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) says that staggering the General Election will save its staffers from the overwhelming tasks leading to fatigue thereby guaranteeing a more secure and transparent poll excise.

This position is however sharply contrasted by some: “I think the proposal to stagger the elections is a lazy approach to the issue. The Constitution and the Elections Act provide for an accurate, simple yet accountable and verifiable election,” argues lawyer Harun Ndubi, who maintains the answer lies in proper execution of the poll exercise “and not the number of days elections are to be conducted”.

In an interview with the Sunday Nation, three days after expressing the electoral body’s proposed amendments to the Constitution on the General Election, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati reiterated the move is geared at decongesting the poll exercise and improving efficiency in the operations of the electoral body.

EFFICIENCY

Mr Chebukati told the Sunday Nation that the commission had finally made a proposal on staggering the elections and that the matter was now out for public debate, “which will then shape public opinion and in turn inform legislation”.

“We now expect stakeholders, who include members of public, political parties, State and non-State actors to debate the issue and make recommendations on pro and cons,” he said.

The IEBC proposes the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held at the same time while that of governors and ward representatives be pushed to a different date.

Two clear scenarios stand out - that the change could lessen the congestion posed by the six ballots of president, governor, senator, member of Parliament, county MP and Member of County Assembly - and thereby offer accurate and credible poll results, or totally reduce the second round of elections into a sham.

The occurrence of the latter is due to the fact that focus in Kenya, as is ordinarily the case in most countries worldwide, is on the presidential race.

RULING PARTY

This means that once a President has been identified through the poll, voter apathy automatically sets in.

There is an even bigger danger of this arrangement, because the new government will flex its political muscle to win over the remaining seats, through coercion or deliberate misinformation.

Mr Stephen Ogesa, a Ugandan freelance journalist, says: “Each time (President Yoweri) Museveni is confirmed as winner in the presidential poll, he rolls out propaganda machinery across the country to the effect that he will only work with civic leaders, district leaders and mayors of municipalities who are allied to his party.”

The import of Uganda’s instance is that a ruling party is bound to get undue advantage in the second round elections.

Because IEBC proposes to kick off the presidential and parliamentary elections, followed later by the other seats, scales might be tilted.

Voters like aligning themselves with the government of the day — meaning the proposed Chebukati arrangement will totally disadvantage candidates for various seats, who do not belong to the ruling party, particularly in highly-competitive “battle-ground” zones.

TRANSPARENCY

The current arrangement of holding all the ballots on the same day is credited for being the fairest, because new representatives emerge devoid of other influential factors.

The proposed arrangement gives an upper hand to the presidential winner to influence results and numbers, in the subsequent polls, to their advantage.

Back home, Mr Ndubi opines the IEBC should concentrate on better delivery on account of existing electoral laws instead of placing hopes on changes in the election days.

"The current law provides for the use of technology. If appropriate technology is employed, while recognising that the polling station is the original and only source of legitimate results, an unpolluted electronic transmission should provide results almost instantly.”

Mr Ndubi argues that the proposal by Mr Chebukati is premised on the old manual system and is therefore not futuristic.

“IEBC should be focusing on an independent but transparent audit of the ICT system. They should be reminded that the only secret thing about elections is the ballot itself. The rest should be open to scrutiny but must be protected from intrusion,” he says.

COSTLY

Reached for comment, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale was more concerned about the high cost of the exercise, estimated at Sh54 billion.

“I don’t think that a shift from one day to two polling days will make a great change. There is much more we need to do in terms of securing our polls.”

But the question of finances is real, and it might jeopardise the entire polling exercise.

Mr Ogesa recalls that in Uganda, there are times when the second round of polls (which is destined to take place two months after the presidential one) has been suspended for over a year.

“The last one was worse. It stretched beyond seven years and when it was eventually held last year, it was a chaotic queue system, since there was no enough cash for a ballot arrangement.”

The IEBC, says Mr Chebukati, greatly appreciates the observations coming through and promises the commission will undertake a comparative study on other jurisdictions that have staggered elections, including Rwanda, Nigeria, USA, Argentina, Australia.

Nonetheless, the IEBC boss is optimistic the benefits of the proposed arrangement outweigh the disadvantages.

“Ultimately the benefits of staggering elections, in terms of efficiency, accuracy and prompt declaration of winners, far outweigh any cost implications.”