The 2017 election is taking shape earlier than usual, and President Uhuru Kenyatta is likely to face a very stiff challenge. With his political fortunes seemingly in doubt, the President and his advisers have taken a keen interest in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
The Nairobi Law Monthly can exclusively report that the President and his advisers are keen to shake up the electoral body, with the objective of installing a new chairman at the helm before the 2017 General Election.
Multiple sources have confirmed to NLM that President Kenyatta wants the chair of the Commission Ahmed Issack Hassan removed. The President’s panel has further identified two more commissioners – one from Northern Kenya and another from the Coast – to be removed along with the chair.
President Kenyatta has severally sent Attorney-General Githu Muigai and the Solicitor-General Njee Muturi to communicate this to the commissioners, and prevail upon them to resign. This latest assignment to the State Law Office is seen by many in the legal profession as being part of the increasingly active political role the office has lately assumed.
Sh25 million golden handshake
A number of inclusive meetings have been held with the commissioners who have, so far, refused to resign. Government, according to our sources, has offered each commissioner a golden handshake of Sh25 million, and promise of diplomatic posting for the chair if he heeds the President’s request. At a meeting between the parties, the commissioners rejected the President’s offer, and informed his emissaries that only a tribunal can remove them from office.
Following the deadlock, our sources inform us that the President’s men have gone to the drawing board to consider what other options there are to achieve the President’s objective.
Political observers are at loss as to purpose of the President’s scheme, and what could be behind his change of heart with regard to the electoral commission. President Kenyatta has been seen as a strong defender of the commissioners, variously expressing his confidence in their performance.
Pundits predict that the President wants to borrow from the scheme and designs of President Kibaki who, through the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs then, disbanded the entire electoral commission in the run-up to the 2007 General Election and appointed State stooges, with disastrous consequences.
Set off alarm bells
Expectedly, the scheme by the President to reshuffle the electoral deck has sent alarm bells rings in a number of quarters. First, the Muslim community is alarmed that the President is targeting three members of the Muslim faith at the commission. According to an official of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) who spoke to the Nairobi Law Monthly on condition that his identity be kept confidential, “President Uhuru Kenyatta has simply shown his hand yet again. We see this as a continuation of his policy to weed Muslims from any position of significance, and we will show him our displeasure in 2017” the official threatened. According to the official, this just confirms how uncomfortable President Kenyatta is with the Muslim community.
A government already accused of targeting Muslims for extrajudicial killings and political marginalisation will not endear itself to this important electoral group by removing three commissioners of that faith, regardless of the thinking behind that decision.
Two, Muslim Senators who spoke to the NLM have also vowed to ensure that Muslims “divorce Jubilee at the next election” and, according to them, “engage the Opposition Cord in a more fruitful relationship”.
The Opposition is privy to the President’s scheme and, although the Cord leadership has always been opposed to the electoral commission and has variously demanded its disbandment, a new thinking or even change of heart may occur within its ranks. According to our sources, Cord leadership is alarmed by the President’s design and plans to challenge it in court. The thinking in Cord is that besides the President’s design being insidious, they would rather deal with “the devil they know” rather than President Uhuru “new devil”.
A number of NGOs and members of the civil society are, according to our sources, also preparing to go to court to challenge any scheme to remove the commissioners and impose new ones.
In the event that President has his way and succeeds in removing the three commissioners, there is likely to be a major shift of electoral tectonic plates in 2017. Depending on whom Uhuru brings in, the very independence of the commission and even the integrity of the electoral process will be in major doubt.