The announcement by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati that electoral boundaries will be reviewed soon could drive the country into the eye of a storm.
Both the delimitation and the 2022 General Election are emotive and polarising issues that should not be undertaken simultaneously. That is a political and litigation minefield.
The Kenyan populace and its economy need reprieve after last year’s heated elections. The Population and Housing Census, which precedes the delimitation, has, in itself, been controversial. It could delay the boundary review if the outcome is contested and the report is not adopted in good time.
The census, conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) under the Statistics Act, and the Electoral Boundaries review by IEBC, under the Constitution, if undertaken as announced, will overlap between 2018 and 2021.
Preparations for the census are at an advanced stage and piloting is underway in selected regions. The IEBC says it is doing the preliminary work as it awaits the census results.
The census data hugely informs planning and allocation of resources and is the basis for constitutional consideration for the review of boundaries.
Whereas population growth follows a systematic pattern, any major variation from the 2009 census will bring about a serious deck effect on the mapping of boundaries. The first review under the 2010 Constitution produced new constituencies, some of which may be folded up by the second through mergers.
EQUALITY OF VOTE
We are likely to have a county becoming a parliamentary constituency. A safeguard provided under a transitional clause, Article 27 (4), in the first review gave a constitutional mechanism, which ensured that constituencies were not lost. But for that, counties such as Isiolo and Lamu would have had one constituency each.
The Constitution emphasises the equality of vote principle and pays little attention to the historical development of constituencies; thus, the population statistics are crucial.
The next boundary review will, inevitably be a high-octane exercise. The principal of “equality of vote” in the Constitution, under Article 89, pegged constituencies at 290 with their population being, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota.
But the delimitation can be lawfully delayed. The last review was in April-June 2012. Constitutionally, the next one can be undertaken within a minimum of eight years and a maximum of 12 after that — in June 2020 to June 2024.
Conducting the electoral boundary review after 2022 will afford the country a much-needed transition from the elections and allow for a less hurried and more accurate census. In addition, the relevant legislation is ambiguous, besides administrative gaps noted during the first review.
Above all, the Sh8 billion cost of the delimitation is a critical consideration in the prevailing hard economic times. This is probably the only situation where postponing things is not procrastination but prudence.
Mr Alawi, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, is a senior partner at Hassan Alawi & Co. Advocates. [email protected]