DP William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

DP William Ruto (left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Their battle for the few but potentially decisive diaspora votes has started.

| File | Nation Media Group

William Ruto, Raila Odinga fight Uhuru polls Bill

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have voiced strong opposition to the proposed Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022, marking a rare closing of ranks between the two presidential hopefuls who now want the government to drop the controversial legal provisions.

Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) yesterday said the proposed amendments will interfere with the transparency of the August 9 General Election, while DP Ruto came out guns blazing against the Bill, which he suggested was a ploy to rig the polls.

The Bill, tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, bans livestreaming of election results on the polling day and also provides for manual identification of voters and transmission of results as opposed to exclusive use of electronic devices.

The Bill also proposes to repeal the current requirement that the polling result forms should be made available on an online public portal maintained by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The portal was in 2017 made accessible to the media, allowing livestreaming of election results then.

“The never-ending onslaught through election law amendments is a choreographed attempt to install a puppet on the Kenyan electorate and sabotage our freedom of choice and hard-earned democracy. The plan is evil and must fail… The assaults on the Constitution through reckless legislative and administrative sleights off hand, by dark forces operating in shadows, are fundamental ingredients of a coup-- the sovereignty of the people of Kenya is under grave threat,” the DP said yesterday on his official Twitter handle.

Crisis meeting

DP Ruto said the Bill was part of what he termed as an ongoing effort to subvert the will of the people on the ballot.

On the other hand, Mr Odinga yesterday chaired a crisis meeting with his key trusted allies in Nairobi, where he expressed concerns on the Bill, and rallied his troops to reject it.

National Assembly minority whip Junet Mohamed, Mr Odinga’s right hand man, told the Nation the party will reject amendments to the law to allow a complimentary mechanism for voter identification and transmission of election results.

The provision, he argued, was not in line with the technological advancements witnessed in the country.

“Take it from me, ODM will oppose this Bill. We cannot go back to the manual system,” Mr Mohamed told the Nation yesterday.

The National Super Alliance (Nasa), which included the ODM party, in a 2017 petition opposed and won in the Supreme Court against IEBC’s failure to transmit electronically all results from Kenya’s 40,883 polling stations.

The Bill also seeks to make it illegal for the IEBC chairman to declare a presidential winner before all constituencies have transmitted their election results.

The current law allows the Commission to make a results declaration if it is satisfied the results that have not been received cannot affect results of the election.

The Commission will also not announce the final results in the order in which the tallying is completed, as is the case now.

Sponsored by National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya, the Bill deletes two key proposals of the current law.

It deletes the provision that in case of any discrepancy between the electronically transmitted and the physically delivered results, the result which was tallied, verified and declared at the polling station shall prevail.

It also removes the current provision that any failure to transmit or publish the election results in an electronic format shall not invalidate the result as announced and declared by the respective presiding and returning officers at the polling station and constituency tallying centre, respectively.

Instead, the new Bill proposes:  “The Commission shall verify that the results transmitted and the physically delivered results under this section are an accurate record of the results tallied, verified and declared at the respective polling stations.”

A government-sponsored Bill

A government-sponsored Bill, such as the proposed amendments to electoral laws, is ordinarily discussed by the Cabinet before drafting by the Attorney General and tabling in Parliament.

As head of the Executive, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who chairs the Cabinet, is deemed to be fully briefed on any government-sponsored business that is introduced in Parliament.

President Kenyatta in early 2018 entered a political truce with his “handshake” partner, Mr Odinga, following the acrimonious 2017 elections, which makes it all the more baffling that ODM is opposed to the proposed amendments.

Mr Mohamed yesterday said ODM will not support a law that may compromise the transparency of election results.

“As a country, we have invested heavily in technology to ensure that our election results are transmitted electronically and therefore taking us back to the manual system is akin to a person saying that in the absence of electricity, darkness is an option. We will not accept that. We can only improve the existing electronic system. We are reading mischief in the Bill and we will not be party to it,” Mr Mohamed said yesterday.

Sources told Nation Mr Odinga is concerned that the Bill leaves too many loose ends that formed the backbone of its petition win which caused the nullification of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election.

 “We looked at Bill and asked ourselves: Why is it that when we’re sure of Raila’s victory, we want to return to the manual system?” posed a source who attended the meeting.

Former Majority Leader Aden Duale, a DP Ruto supporter, who had backed provisions for complimentary mechanism to identify voters, says the Bill reverses gains made in electoral reforms.

“The Bill changes the manner of transmission of results and the government cannot take over the functions of an independent commission to set the stage for rigging and electoral fraud to install a puppet and project of the deep state as the next president,” said Mr Duale.

The Garissa Township MP argues: “In the absence of any law defining what the complementary mechanism for transmission of election results is, the credibility of election results may be put into question.”

The Nation has also established that the IEBC was heavily involved in drafting of the Bill.

The current controversy comes hot on the heels of the recent acrimony in Parliament generated by the Political Parties Act that was recently signed by President Kenyatta.

ODM Secretary of Political Affairs, Opiyo Wandayi, said the Bill touches on many other weighty issues that he is still studying.

Election results

Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny, a President Kenyatta ally, said the Bill, especially the part on manual transmission of results, was bound to split opinion.

“People will think otherwise if they see that there will be no live transmission of election results. Although we have seen that allowing everyone to announce their own results sometimes has caused problems when the actual votes are announced, I must read and understand why Kimunya brought this particular amendment,” Mr Kutuny said.

Endebess MP Robert Pukose claimed that the Bill was a clear indication of an intention to interfere with free and fair elections.

“We need to be careful on how we manage elections. The world is now digital and we wonder why we should transmit our election results manually,” Mr Pukose told the Nation.

Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, a DP Ruto ally, said they are ready to shoot the Bill down.

“We’re prepared for them. Let them bring it on,” Mr Rono said.

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa also said the Bill is a recipe for election violence.

“Those amendments are mischievous and retrogressive aimed at benefiting an individual who always believes that elections can be decided by certain people and not Kenyans,” Mr Barasa said.

Kericho senator Aaron Cheruiyot said: “Why would a retiring President (Uhuru Kenyatta) seek to change election laws a few months to the elections? Why would he lead Cabinet to draft a law directing IEBC on how to manage our elections? Why the panic? With such levels of interference, will it end well?”

The Bill also seeks to alter the flow of election results for a presidential election, with presiding officers only required to send images of the results to the national tallying centre and then personally delivering them to the constituency returning officer.

The constituency returning officer, the Bill says, shall collate the results and physically deliver them to the national tallying centre, where the IEBC will tally, verify, and declare the results.