Thursday, October 9, 2008



The Standard
Nairobi, Kenya

October 9, 2008

Following the release of the report of the Independent Review Commission (Irec) leaders from the opposing sides of the political divide have seized on two of the seven main recommendations.

In championing their favourite prescriptions, however, both PNU alliance and ODM leaders threaten to cheat citizens of a healthy debate on the findings and recommendations of the Kriegler Commission.

There has been a sustained campaign to disparage Irec’s findings, with arguments it tells us "nothing new" or "nothing we did not know". These false generalisations have made it easier for both sides to fixate on the recommendations they see as most favourable politically.

Those in the PNU alliance are excited by the finding of "serious anomalies in the delimitation of constituencies". In the last few weeks, various leaders from Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta to Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri, have spoken out about the huge variations in population sizes in different constituencies (known as electoral districts). While the smaller ones have as few as 10,000 people, the largest has 300,000 constituents. This, they say, violates the democratic principle of one person one vote.

A key Irec recommendation addresses this problem, seeking powers for a new electoral body to properly to perform constitutional functions like determining constituency sizes better than the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) currently does.

Over on the ODM side, the suggestion that is finding most favour has to do with the fate of the ECK. Prime Minister Raila Odinga has repeatedly called for the immediate departure of ECK officials. Contentions by Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and other leaders that the departure must await other reforms have been taken as opposition.

Things have not been helped by the eruption of a spat between foreign diplomats and Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula on the issue. The diplomats call for "implementation of the recommendations of the Kriegler report" have been interpreted in the light of the narrow debate on ECK.

Irec did find that ECK’s legitimacy and credibility "have been gravely and arguably irreversibly impaired". Its advice is radical reform or a new electoral management body. Both options seem to presume the people in charge cannot be rehabilitated, so there can be no debate on whether they stay. Only whether or when to scrap the 350 or so staff along with the people at the top.


With the Kriegler Commission report coming up before the Cabinet, the nation has an opportunity to focus on the implementation of the seven main recommendations, not just the two politicians are keen to have us fight over.

Most have huge implications and, if not understood by the public, may be easily rejected out of hand by leaders in favour of the politically popular ones.

Do we have consensus on adopting a new voter registration system that would grow the voter register by a third? What of a freeze on all elections as we discuss a new electoral system as part of the constitutional review? Can we agree on whether and how to spend money addressing electoral integrity weaknesses of other players in the process — politicians, voters, observers, the media — beyond the ECK?

Irec’s finding that "the electoral environment was polluted by the conduct of many public participants, especially political parties and the media" should be a reminder we need to think beyond the ECK and its functions.

A failure to enter these suggestions into public debate will cede the decision making on our electoral future to politicians who, the Kriegler team found, were also to blame for a lack of electoral integrity not just in last year’s polls, but also in their party nominations and in previous General Elections.

One of the key goals of a review such as Irec’s is to educate a nation. If there is one lesson we must learn from last year, it is that trust in politicians and the media must be earned. And this must begin with how they handle the Kriegler team’s seven key recommendations.