Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Tuesday, 03 Jan 2017 18:12 EAT
All eyes were on the Senate as it reconvened for a special sitting to consider controversial changes to the electoral laws adopted by the National Assembly two weeks ago. The changes that include a manual backup system for voter identification and results transmission and the timeliness for the acquisition of election-related ICTs, significantly alter the electoral laws that had been been unanimously agreed upon between Jubilee and CORD following months of opposition-led street demonstrations in 2016.
The Senate Committee for Justice and Legal Affairs led by Busia senator Amos Wako today heard arguments from members of the public and Attorney General Githu Muigai. From the discussions, it was clear that Jubilee and CORD had sharply polarised the country along the lines of 2007 elections, with President Uhuru Kenyatta only taking the place of his predecessor Mwai Kibaki.
Then as now, CORD leader Raila Odinga led calls for the enactment of legal reforms to level the playing ground, clutching, in retrospect, to feeble legal understandings between the government and the opposition. Where the former President went against the spirit of the IPPG agreement on the constitution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, President Uhuru is determined to rewrite the laws on the elections that he had jointly signed with Mr Odinga.
The contending sides are buttressed by a cast of allies not quite different from the players in 2007. William Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi all were instrumental in shaping the dynamics of the election as they certainly are doing today, albeit on starkly different sides than in 2007. Amos Wako, the attorney general in 2007, is leading a bipartisan effort by the senate to cool tempers flaring over the controversial amendments.
Warnings about potential violence have been sounded too, more prominently than in 2007 when many a politician claimed to have been caught unawares by the post-election violence that followed the conclusion of that election. At today's hearings, Attorney General Githu Muigai and Royal Media Services owner SK Macharia gave conflicting views on the use of electronic voter system.
Prof. Muigai, speaking for the establishment, said the emphasis on electronic voter system is ignorance of what happens in Kenya noting that many commentators on the amended election laws have misled Kenyans to think Kenya has an electronic voting system. But Mr Macharia emphatically disagreed: "Whatever I say here, that media owners dispute, I will take full responsibility for. We can use satellite phones in areas not covered by mobile phone networks."
The former chairman of the Media Owners Association said the public needs to know Kenya did not do "proper things" in the 1992 and 1997 general elections. “Equipment does break down. You have to stand by and replace them. You just need to plan properly and do what’s right for the country,” he said. He recalled the rigging of the 2007 elections, saying the media "had clear statistics" showing Mr Odinga won the election.
"The one who was declared the winner in 2007 was not the winner... We tracked all the results through satellite phones," he said. "As per my records, Raila won the elections." The declaration by the Electoral Commission that President Kibaki had won re-election sparked violence (PEV) in five of Kenya's eight provinces, leaving in its wake at least 1,333 Kenyans dead and more than 650,000 displaced from their homes.
The 2007 PEV was also resolved through international mediation led by former head of the United Nations Kofi Annan. The International Criminal Court indicted Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto together with four other Kenyans for masterminding the crimes in that violence. Charges against all six Kenyans were eventually dropped.
Speaking of his role to mediate the 2007 conflict, Mr Macharia said he tried to convince Kibaki to allow a legitimate process but was overruled. Five years later, in 2013, he said he had used his media house to back Mr Odinga's presidential campaign. He also said he would conduct a door-to-door campaign for the former Prime Minister as he had promised to fight poverty and ensure food is affordable for all Kenyans. That election, he said, was also rigged. “If you read the IEBC summary report, it says there was confusion in the 2013 register,” he said.
On his part, AG Muigai said Kenya has a manual voting system that is supported by an electronic system, and that the opposition was misreading the system as being the other way round. "In Kenya, we have a manual voting system with few electronic interventions. Voting largely remains manual. If the machines will fail for any reason, the paper ballot shall be in place to take over."
“In my opinion we have a manual system, voting is not an event it is a process. We have no machines to count the votes, we empty the ballot box and count the votes manually," he said. “Manual system is the only way out. When the system does not work, we create a transparent mechanism.”