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A lesson in nomination rules

Wednesday January 30 2013



If there is one lesson from the 1992 elections, it is that not knowing the difference between A4 and foolscap size of paper can be very costly.

The present rules stipulate that presidential candidates must present their supporting documents on A4 paper, a change from the foolscap paper previously required.

When he presented his nomination papers in 1992, President Moi and most of the other candidates ignored the rules and presented their supporting documents on the more common A4 instead of the older imperial measure foolscap paper.

Election petition

One candidate who scrupulously observed the rules was Mr John Harun Mwau of the Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya.

Soon after the presidential election results were announced, he rushed to court with an election petition seeking to nullify President Moi’s victory on the basis that he was not properly nominated and therefore ought not to have been on the ballot.

In fact, Mr Mwau argued that he, the petitioner was the only validly nominated candidate and therefore should have been declared elected unopposed because all the others should have been disqualified for using A4 paper instead of foolscap.

President Moi’s lawyers—led by such luminaries as Mr Mutula Kilonzo, now Education minister, and Mr Philip Murgor, later to become Director of Public Prosecutions—had moved with alacrity to knock out on technical ground petitions filed by the major presidential contenders such as Mr Kenneth Matiba of Ford Asili and Mr Oginga Odinga of Ford Kenya. They neglected initially to apply similar pressure against Mr Mwau’s quixotic pleading.

While the flamboyant businessman who later became MP for Kilome had filed a variety of reasons against President Moi’s election, including an attempt to bribe the electoral commission chairman, it was the argument about the size of paper that went furthest.

There might be much difference between a foolscap of 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in (216 x 343 mm) and the International Standards Organisation A4 measure of 21cm × 29.7cm, but Mr Mwau argued strongly that candidates do not have the leeway to decide which rules to observe and which to ignore.

His point was that a presidential candidate who cannot understand the simple distinction between foolscap and A4 paper might not be suitable for the complexities of high office. Another was that one who simply decides to disregard the distinction is still unsuitable for office because he is likely to ride roughshod over the law.

The court sat for days listening to arguments and counter-arguments, before finally throwing out the petition. However, judges Emmanuel O’kubasu, Gideon Mbito and John Mwera in their ruling noted that Mr Mwau, who represented himself, had argued his case strenuously and lauded him as “a man of great industry and unrelenting crusader for justice and the rule of law”.

They therefore decided against penalising him with legal costs. Since then all presidential contenders have adhered strictly to the stipulated size of paper.