Ghosts of 2022 presidential election return as Raila takes IEBC battle to the streets

Anniversary Towers

Police officers arresting a protestor outside Anniversary Towers in Nairobi on September 26, 2022 where Azimio leaders and supporters had gone to demand reinstatement of the interdicted Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Deputy Chief Executive Officer Ruth Kulundu.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Opposition leader Raila Odinga will this week take the battle for control of the electoral agency to the streets in the wake of conspiracy theories surrounding the August 9, 2022 General Election.

Several versions of attempts to influence the outcome of the election have emerged, some detailing “attempts to kill officials” as well as the involvement of foreigners, who reportedly tried to hack the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) systems.

President William Ruto and Mr Odinga have sensationally painted themselves as victims by claiming their rivals tried to interfere with the operations of the commission.

The claims and counter-claims have already poisoned plans to recruit commissioners of the IEBC, with the opposition Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition saying it is an early attempt by President Ruto to rig the 2027 polls by hiring friendly officials.

The President has declared vacancies at the IEBC after the retirement of Mr Wafula Chebukati, Prof Abdi Guliye and Mr Boya Molu on January 17.

Parliament has since set in motion the process of hiring its two representatives to the IEBC.

In an advert, the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) called on interested candidates to send applications before February 20.

PSC Secretary, Jeremiah Nyegenye, who is also the Senate Clerk, will recruit two people – a man and a woman – to represent Parliament.

“The Parliamentary Service Commission invites applications from suitably qualified persons who satisfy the provisions of the Constitution and the IEBC Act, 2011, for appointment as its nominees, one man and one woman to the selection panel for chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission,” the notice reads.

Mr Odinga has vowed to stop the recruitment of the commissioners.

He says he will take his protests against the exercise to the IEBC doorstep on Wednesday.

The opposition coalition says it will “hold prayers for the commission” at Jeevanjee Gardens, just metres away from IEBC headquarters at Anniversary Towers.

According to Azimio, the recently passed law has laid the ground for President Ruto’s re-election in 2027.

This, according to the opposition, is the reason the four dissenting commissioners were sent home though one is still fighting for her survival at the tribunal formed by President Ruto.

Nominated MP John Mbadi says the 2027 election results are already disputed if the current law is used to recruit IEBC commissioners.

According to Mbadi, Azimio and Kenya Kwanza should have an equal number of commissioners at the electoral commission.

He says the IEBC chairperson should be an eminent individual from the Commonwealth, assisted by two vice-chairpersons with the coalitions nominating one each.

“It is only through this that we will have a commission Kenyans have confidence in. Let’s admit no Kenyan is neutral and independent,” Mr Mbadi said.

Vihiga Senator Geoffrey Osotsi has been rooting for the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG)

He faults the recent bill passed in the Senate on the recruitment of IEBC commissioners, saying it was rushed by the ruling coalition.

“A negotiated approach involving both sides is the best way to go. The 2022 elections remain the best in the country’s history because of the IPPG deal after the 1997 vote,” Mr Osotsi said.

But National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman George Murugara faults Azimio, saying the opposition has not demonstrated what is wrong with the law passed by the Senate.

“If the law was good when they were recruiting the four commissioners, what is wrong with it now? We need to move with speed. As we speak, there are no commissioners at the IEBC and there is already a new law in place to start the recruitment,” Mr Murugara said.

He adds that if Azimio la Umoja One Kenya wants the IPPG route, it should bring an amendment to the law and convince the House why it should be changed.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya terms the demand by the opposition as an afterthought.

“Azimio has numbers in Parliament. It should have used its strength to amend the law during the third reading or committee of the whole House. This demand is meant to take the country in circles. The horse has already left the stables,” Mr Baya said.

University of Nairobi lecturer Samuel Mbutu told the Sunday Nation that the question of electoral commissions in Kenya has been a hot subject since the 1988 mlolongo (queueing) voting system, hence the reason for the mistrust.

“The best way out is dialogue, something similar to the IPPG agreement that brokered a truce between President Daniel arap Moi and the opposition in 1997. It will be a win-win situation for Ruto and Raila. After all, the commission is there to serve Kenyans and it is meant to be impartial,” Dr Mbutu said.

“The government side and the opposition have always believed that the one who votes is not that important as compared to the one who counts the votes.”

This week, details of how a group of Israeli disinformation contractors hacked into email and social media accounts of senior election officials and President Ruto’s close allies just days before the 2022 elections emerged barely a month after Mr Odinga cited a document by a whistleblower that claimed he won the contest by 8,170,353 votes representing 57.3 per cent while Dr Ruto garnered 5,915,973.

The said figures formed the basis of Mr Odinga’s declaration that Dr Ruto is in office illegally, giving birth to the ongoing nationwide rallies to discredit the Kenya Kwanza Alliance administration.

National Assembly Majority Leader, Kimani Ichung’wa, has since challenged Mr Odinga to come out clean on the hacking claims.

Mr Ichung’wa said it is surprising that Mr Odinga, who has been saying that his votes were stolen, “actually hired hackers to help him alter the outcome”.

“It is high time that he tells the world what he rally wanted to achieve. Mr Odinga has been spreading lies, knowing very well it was he who schemed to steal the presidential election,” Mr Ichung’wa said.

Dr Ruto had also talked of a plot to abduct and kill Mr Chebukati in an attempt to force the alteration of the results in favour of Mr Odinga.

According to the President, the plot to abduct Mr Chebukati was sanctioned by the “highest” office, with the plan being to paralyse IEBC and install “friendly” commissioners that would eventually announce a candidate that was not elected by the people.

The President, without mentioning names, said senior politicians teamed up to manage the presidential succession with a view to guaranteeing a very specific outcome of the ensuing election.

Opposition politicians have termed the latest allegations of hacking as diversionary tactics.

Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni and Mr Osotsi said the commission has not countered the results provided by the whistleblower, adding that the latest allegations are meant to divert Kenyans’ attention from what really happened.

The two demanded that IEBC provides presidential results from the 290 constituencies so that Kenyans can make a comparison with the ones provided by the whistleblower.

“We are not going to be distracted by the claims. Tell them to open the servers,” Mr Kioni said.