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Electoral body could have provided more transparency

Sunday March 13 2016

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission officials count votes at Highlands Primary Polling station in Kericho Town during the Kericho County senatorial by-election on March 7, 2016. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission officials count votes at Highlands Primary Polling station in Kericho Town during the Kericho County senatorial by-election on March 7, 2016. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE KEGORO
By GEORGE KEGORO
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The Kericho by-election has consolidated the rivalry between Deputy President William Ruto and the Baringo Senator and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, who is a son of former president Daniel Moi.

While the younger Moi had previously promised to give Ruto a political fight of his life, it was assumed that the first occasion when this possibility would arise would be during the 2017 elections.

The Kericho by-election was a gift to the Moi camp and provided them with an opportunity to test their own strength in a contest where the stakes were relatively low for them.

The Kericho by-election also consolidated the Deputy President’s political enemies within Jubilee who came up with an unlikely common front against Ruto.

These included Isaac Ruto’s fledgling Mashinani Party which found a working formula with Kanu that also brought in Jubilee rebel MPs like Oscar Sudi, Alfred Keter and Johana Ng’eno and also the party-hopping Magerer Langat. Unusually, the Kenya National Union of Teachers also took an open political position, endorsing the Kanu candidate.

Contrary to what has been portrayed, the Kericho by-election was not merely an internal Jubilee matter with no wider political consequences.

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For one, it is common ground that if the JAP candidate had lost the election, it might have signalled the beginning of the end of the Deputy President’s position as the political supremo in the Rift Valley and may have considerably reduced his bargaining power inside Jubilee.

Even with a JAP win in Kericho, Kanu’s strong showing has provided the former ruling party with a new source of confidence on which it can build support within the Rift Valley and may also have increased its bargaining power in Jubilee.

The by-election was important for Kanu in the sense that the former ruling party, unsure about how its controversial history affects its future in Kenyan politics, needed a high-profile opportunity like the one offered by the Kericho by-election to find an answer to this question.

And the answer seems to be that despite a history of incompetent management of the country’s public affairs and gross human rights abuses, all can be forgiven and that, in principle, Kanu can be part of the political future of the country.

While the results in Kericho indicate that Ruto is safe, Kanu has done enough to create uncertainty in the political future of the Deputy President.

Besides that, Kanu’s view that the Kericho results were rigged has given Kanu a new cause and something around which it can seek the high moral ground that the former ruling party has never previously occupied.

However, as seeking the high moral ground would also involve condemning the IEBC, an organisation that Jubilee usually supports unreservedly, it will be interesting to see how Kanu balances these competing interests.

The Malindi by-election, on the other hand, provided an opportunity for Jubilee to test its strength in a part of the country which did not vote for the ruling coalition during the 2013 elections.

Although the opposition Orange Democratic Movement retained the Malindi seat, the fact that the margin of victory has been reduced compared with the 2013 results, is seen as a reason for Jubilee to be optimistic that it has made inroads in the coastal area.

Within the opposition coalition Cord, winning Malindi was also significant for ODM which is facing internal competition from its coalition partner Wiper elsewhere in the coast, principally in Mombasa. Winning Malindi gives ODM a basis for arguing that it is the most popular party at the coast and should, therefore, field candidates in Mombasa ahead of its coalition partners.

Ever since the 2013 General Election, whose management the IEBC has been criticised for, the electoral body has used the subsequent by-elections to showcase its management abilities as a way of answering some of the previous criticism. The Kericho and Malindi by-elections have been an exception in that the IEBC has shown the kind of frailties that it usually manages to avoid during by-elections.

There are legitimate suspicions that something went wrong in the tallying and announcement of the results in Kericho which were surrounded by the same mysteries that characterised the announcement of the presidential elections in 2013.

The only problem is that Kanu, the complainant, is not a sympathetic victim since in the eyes of the public, this is what the former ruling party habitually did to its competitors during elections. Further, if Kanu prosecutes its case too strongly, it would only manage to vindicate claims that Jubilee fiddled with the 2013 elections.

There is no evidence to make any more serious allegation than that the IEBC could have provided more transparency of its processes in Kericho.

On polling day, Malindi was a paradise for lawlessness and manifold electoral offences as the IEBC completely lost control of the situation on the ground. The Malindi election shows that political players no longer fear the IEBC or any other law enforcement authority.

The leadership of the IEBC was missing in the period preceding the election in Malindi and has also been missing in the post-election assessment of the performance in Malindi.

For different reasons, the Kericho and Malindi elections provide new evidence that the country should be worried about the capacities that the IEBC has for running the 2017 elections.

The problem is that the IEBC has lost its moral command over elections and is no longer seen as a force representing the aspirational goal of free and fair elections, a problem that is compounded by woeful law-enforcement on the part of the police.

The Kericho and Malindi by-elections may be a foretaste of greater electoral failure in 2007.

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