Time is running out on Kenya’s electoral commission

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With only 165 days left to go before Kenya’s general election, questions abound as to whether the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the country’s elections management body, will be able to meet the August 8 election deadline.

On January 16, the IEBC began the second and last mass voter registration exercise. The process, which came to an end on February 19, saw the registration of close to 3.8 million new voters. The next phase in the registration process was the inspection and validation of the voter’s register slated for May 17. However, a High Court decision ordering that registration of voters continue until May 17 might throw this timeline into disarray.

To add to IEBC’s woes, the High Court on January 20 cancelled a 2.5 Billion Kenya shillings ($25 Million) ballot printing tender, gravely affecting IEBC’s logistical preparations for the elections. In response to the High Court’s decision on the tender award, IEBC’s CEO Ezra Chiloba stated that, “The printing tender ruling means IEBC has to restart the bureaucratic process of re-advertising the tender, but we are committed to free, fair and credible exercise.”

On the list of litigation that could affect the IEBC’s capacity to carry out the 2017 Kenyan elections on time includes a case currently at the High Court that seeks to reduce the resignation deadline for civil servants intending to run for elective positions from 6 to 2 months. The deadline for civil servants’ resignations was February 7 but there is a chance that the High Court may restart the clock on the deadline once it has made its decision meaning that the election date, might hinge on how quickly the court disposes with this case.

Court cases aside, the IEBC is rushing against time to register eligible Kenyan voters living abroad. As it stands, the IEBC is targeting eligible voters living in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa in an exercise running from February 20 to March 6, 2017. The IEBC will also be registering eligible Kenyan voters in correctional facilities. According to data from the Kenya Prisons Service, there are 49,867 incarcerated persons in 118 facilities across the country.

Regardless of the perceived disruptive effect of litigation on the country’s elections calendar, IEBC’s Chairman Wanyonyi Chebukati, is optimistic about the prospect of a free and fair election in August:  “The General Elections are fast approaching and we promise to deliver free, fair and peaceful elections.”

Apart from factors beyond its control, the commission’s preparedness is compromised by lack of essential skills for staff operating electronics used in data capture, processing and administration.  With this in mind, IEBC reforms agreed to by political parties last December require that the final voter register must be published for public scrutiny and vetting. Already, the National Super Alliance (NASA), is openly doubtful as to whether the IEBC will be able to meets its deadlines.

Delayed elections might prove to be a powder keg during a highly competitive and divisive election season. During the 2007 elections, delayed election results were a significant factor in the precipitation of election related violence. How the IEBC manages the elections calendar might prove to be a bigger determinant of the country’s political stability than previously appreciated.


The views expressed in this post are of the author’s and in no way reflect those of The Election Network.

George Okore is based in Nairobi, Kenya and works as a Freelance Correspondent for several publications

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