The plan to remove four electoral agency commissioners turned into a war of words between President William Ruto and opposition chief Raila Odinga yesterday, with the latter hinting at mass action.
The two leaders took to twitter on a day petitioners pushing for the removal of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) vice-chairperson Juliana Cherera and commissioners Justus Nyang’aya, Irene Masit and Wanderi Kamau made their final submissions.
IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was also sucked into the saga for reportedly sponsoring some of the petitions so as to have the four commissioners out before his term expires in January.
Some members of the divided National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee hearing the petitions linked one of the petitioners to Mr Chebukati.
Members of the committee allied to Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition boycotted yesterday’s hearing, describing it as a charade run by individuals receiving instructions from State House.
Dr Ruto described the four as “rogue officials” who have to be held to account by Parliament for attempting to subvert the will of Kenyans in the August 9 presidential election.
He said Mr Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta are “lords of impunity who destroyed oversight institutions through the (March 9, 2018)handshake fraud”.
“They should allow Parliament to hold to account rogue officials who put the nation in danger by subverting the democratic will of the people. The new order is the rule of law, not the wishes of big men,” the President tweeted.
But Mr Odinga said the opposition would explore “every avenue” to stop the removal of the four commissioners, including calling for mass protest.
He described the attempted ouster as a scheme to capture the IEBC for purposes of the 2027 General Election.
“There is due process and natural justice. Things are not done at the whims of the Executive. The rule of law must prevail and not jungle laws that you want to insinuate so as to subjugate Kenyans to a conveyor belt system of elections come 2027,” Mr Odinga wrote.
“The injustice being inflicted on the four commissioners, if it proceeds as currently conceived, will mark the beginning of a massive pushback against Ruto and those who think like him, by the people of Kenya.”
Azimio leadership in Parliament told the Saturday Nation that the coalition would do everything within its reach to stall the plan to hound out of office the commissioners who rejected the results used to declare Dr Ruto the country’s fifth President.
“Ultimately, we shall deploy all possible means to stop this charade not only to the four commissioners but also to any other independent office that this regime wants to put through such archaic political machinations,” National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said.
“Even the (Daniel Toroitic arap) Moi regime, at its most dictatorial phase, resisted and stopped in its tracks. The onslaught against the commissioners is tantamount to a declaration of war. It will not end well for the authors.”
Minority Whip Junet Mohamed said the removal of the four is part of a wider scheme by the Kenya Kwanza government to put in place a “user-friendly” electoral commission.
He added that it is surprising that most Kenyans are struggling with a high cost of living “but the President is busy engaging in petty political scores”.
“A country experiencing an unprecedented drought and hunger, millions of children out of school, millions of young people out of work, crimes surging in urban areas, your policy failures leading to the high cost of living, shouldn’t waste public resources settling petty political scores,” Mr Mohamed said.
Despite the walkouts and mass action threat by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party, the committee that is dominated by allies of President Ruto proceeded with the hearing as it prepared to hear the commissioners’ side of the story on Monday and Tuesday.
Only Kenya Kwanza-allied MPs were present at yesterday’s hearing.
The panel is considering four petitions seeking the removal of Ms Cherera, Mr Nyang’aya, Ms Masit and Mr Wanderi from office on grounds of violating the Constitution and a breach of oath.
Mr Kennedy Mong’are, a petitioners representing the Republican Liberty Party, said the four should be sent home “because they brought disrepute to the IEBC by walking out of Bomas of Kenya, a gazetted area for the release of the presidential election results.
But Mr Mong’are came under scrutiny over questions on whether he is being used by Mr Chebukati to file the petition.
Committee vice-chairman Eckomas Mwengi (Kibwezi West) asked Mr Mong’are to clear the air over the matter.
“There are reports that you have been used by Mr Chebukati. What can you say about that?” he asked
Mr Mong’are distanced himself from the allegations, saying he has never met Mr Chebukati.
“I am my own man and an advocate of the High Court. I have never shaken hands with Mr Chebukati. The allegations are just rumours,” he told the lawmakers.
“They walked out of a gazetted area, a decision that caused agony to the people of Kenya. It even led to chaos at Bomas of Kenya. They violated the Constitution,” Mr Mong’are said.
Majority Whip Silvanus Osoro dismissed Mr Mong’are, saying he is not convincing.
“I’m struggling to understand the points of the petitioner. The petition lacks substantive reasons to warrant the removal of the commissioners. Don’t tell me that they addressed a separate press conference because that is in the public domain,” Mr Osoro said.
“It is a ‘no’ on this petition. The written petition and the presentation are completely different.”
Ms Masit’s lawyer, Donald Kipkorir, raised preliminary objectives over the hearing.
He said the petition lacks authenticity as it has no supporting documents from the Republican Liberty Party.
“According to the Constitution, a political party is a corporate entity. We demand copies of minutes of the meeting the party made a decision to file this petition. The minutes should be signed by officials of the Republican Liberty Party,” Mr Korir said.
Another petitioner – Geoffrey Langat – also fought off allegations that he might have been sent by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
Mr Lang’at, who the committee learnt that is a UDA member, was told to table evidence showing that the statement read by the four IEBC commissioners was similar to that released by Azimio leaders at the KICC. He denied being sent by UDA.
“I have not been instructed by UDA to file this petition. I’m acting in my own capacity as a citizen who believes in the rule of the law,” he said.
Kanduyi MP John Makali challenged Mr Lang’at to explain why the commissioners should be dismissed just because they differed with Mr Chebukati
“The four commissioners were simply expressing their opinion. That is guaranteed in the Constitution. Why are you asking this committee to remove them for doing what is in the Constitution?” the MP asked.
Mr Lang’at said the four were being coordinated from elsewhere.
The committee will meet Ms Cherera and Ms Masit on Monday before completing its sittings on Tuesday with a meeting with Mr Wanderi and Mr Nyang’aya.