Raila Odinga wants political parties to pick IEBC commissioners

Azimio bipartisan talks

Azimio members in the bipartisan talks, from left: DAP-K party leader Eugene Wamalwa, Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni and National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on September 1, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Opposition leader Raila Odinga is rooting for an Inter-Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG) set-up to spearhead radical electoral reforms, reminiscent of a similar arrangement in 1997, in the ongoing negotiations with President William Ruto, Nation has learnt.

IPPG is a system where political parties directly pick commissioners at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). This proposal has in the past proven divisive.

An opposition official in the negotiations told Nation one of their proposals under the “electoral justice” agenda is going for reforms similar to those negotiated by parties in the run-up to the 1997 election. Another option, he said, was to reconstitute the selection panel and call for fresh applications for IEBC commissioners.

In the ‘97 deal, then ruling party Kanu and several Opposition outfits, including Democratic Party (DP), Ford Kenya, Ford Asili and Safina, agreed to pick electoral commissioners to run that year’s General Election. Nation has also established that the technical teams by ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Opposition outfit Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party have been holding separate meetings to come up with proposals on how to resolve each of the five items framed for negotiations.

According to a member of the ruling coalition in the negotiations, the technical teams are set to hold a joint meeting this Friday to harmonise proposals by the two sides for plenary presentation to the 10-member National Dialogue Committee on Monday. Azimio is also demanding reforms in the IEBC secretariat that could trigger an overhaul of the current team led by CEO Marjan Hussein.

“We can go the IPPG way so that the political parties can directly pick the referee. There is no firm position taken yet but this is what we have put on the table because the only time we had our elections right was when there was IPPG in place,” said an Opposition negotiator in the talks. Mr Odinga has been consistent in his push for an IPPG approach in recruiting IEBC commissioners.

“From our experience, you cannot establish a commission to recruit another commission. The IPPG commission of post-1997 was the best we have ever had as a country. It conducted flawless elections until 2007 when its mandate expired and former President [Mwai] Kibaki trashed it and appointed friends to run elections,” Mr Odinga is on record as saying in an interview when he pushed for the approach in replacing the Issack Hassan-led team that was kicked out of office in the run-up to the 2017 polls.

The National Dialogue Committee co-chaired by Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah on Friday agreed to prioritise the restructuring of IEBC and the audit of the 2022 presidential election results.

The law provides for a selection panel to call for applications, conduct interviews, and shortlist candidates for the IEBC jobs. Names of successful candidates are later sent to the President for nomination before they can be vetted by the National Assembly and finally appointed.

President Ruto in February appointed a selection panel chaired by Dr Nelson Makanda. The team has since slowed down its wok to give the ongoing talks a chance.

Mr Musyoka last Wednesday said the panel could be reconstituted fresh. This, even as Mr Ichung’wah said they had written to the team to notify them of the ongoing talks.

“As they progress with their work, they should take note that the issue of the reconstitution of IEBC is under discussion,” he said.