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Ruto should walk the talk on IEBC changes to strengthen democracy

by kenya-tribune

Less than six months after last year’s general election, the high-octane politics is back. Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga has embarked on a series of rallies to deligitimise President William Ruto’s election victory.

Fresh from a tour of South Africa on January 23, Mr Odinga headed to Kamukunji grounds, Nairobi, where he announced his coalition’s rejection of the 2022 election results and said they do not recognise Dr Ruto as the President.

Mr Odinga and his team also want the entire infrastructure and records of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) made public and want attempts by President Ruto to ‘single-handedly’ reconstitute the electoral body stop.

On Sunday, at Jacaranda grounds, Nairobi, Mr Odinga upped the ante, asking the Commonwealth and the United Nations to deploy inspectors to Kenya within two weeks to probe alleged electoral malpractices in the August 9, 2022 polls, failure to which “Kenyans will take matters into their own hands”.

Selfish interests

President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua have hit back at Mr Odinga, accusing the former Prime Minister of seeking to polarise the country for his own selfish interests.

Such political rhetoric from the country’s top leaders is unwarranted when Kenyans are suffering due to the soaring cost of living.

While Mr Odinga and his Azimio brigade are within their rights to prosecute their political agenda as they wish, it is important that they do it peacefully and avoid inciteful and inflammatory language. The 2007/2008 post-election violence should forever be etched in our collective mind on how not to do politics. The issue of IEBC will continue to be our Achilles’ heel if not addressed soberly, without political grandstanding.

Recipe for anarchy

What was witnessed at the Bomas of Kenya on August 15 should not be allowed to recur.

To have two sets of electoral commissioners at loggerheads over the presidential election results was not only shameful but also a sure recipe for anarchy. That is why it’s crucial for the reconstitution of IEBC to be done in a participatory manner. The 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) initiative offers important lessons in this regard.

Politicians should remember that the bad laws or policies they support will come to haunt them later. During the official launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report on October 26, 2020, then-Deputy President Ruto was booed and heckled by a partisan crowd, comprising mostly supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, when he tried to explain his misgivings about some proposals in the document.

On IEBC, Dr Ruto was categorical that commissioners should not be picked by political players or, at the very least, they should be appointed through a consultative process involving all the players.

He said: “Let me say, on the matter of IEBC, the recommendations I have read say that political parties participate in the appointment of commissioners to IEBC…. How fair will a league be where the referee is appointed by teams? How fair will this league be?

“If you tell me it is okay for some, and not all teams participating, to appoint the referee, I have my reservations that that is fair.”

BBI report

When it suited him, Mr Odinga supported the BBI report in toto. Now that the tables have turned, he is rejecting President Ruto’s bid to ‘single-handedly’ constitute a new commission. This follows the President’s signing into law of the IEBC (Amendment) Bill 2022.

However, President Ruto should now walk the talk. It’s time for him to demonstrate that he meant what he said at Bomas: That it’s unfair for some players to pick the referee. The President should help to deepen Kenya’s democracy by supporting IEBC to be truly independent—as its name says—so that it can conduct free, fair and transparent elections.

That starts with the recruitment of commissioners. The process must only be fair but also be seen to be fair—by all the players.

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