Elections for the female representative of magistrates in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) were conducted in early December. Although there were four candidates vying, it was obvious from the start that the real battle was going to be between the incumbent Emily Ominde and Doreen Mulecho. The other candidate, Julie Oseko, was seen by many as a mere spoiler, running at the behest of political operatives and wheeler dealers who wanted Ms Ominde gone.
Like in all elections in the country, voter bribery and the political of ethnicity and bribe played out in full view of the both voters and their candidates.
The election was conducted and supervised by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Nairobi, where magistrates, judges and Kadhis from all over the country participated.
Political interest in the contest was considerable, particularly from the URP side of government, which marshalled two senators and a number of judges from the Rift Valley to spearhead Ms Mulecho’s campaign. According to a number of judges, magistrates and Kadhis the Nairobi Law Monthly spoke to, the two senators openly bribed voters. Those considered to have considerable clout – such that they could influence others – were given as high as Sh500,000; meanwhile, the two senators could be seen buying votes at an average of Sh150,000 per head.
A prominent judge who is known more for forging political connections rather than writing sound legal judgments was also seen soliciting for voters and openly campaigned against the Ms Ominde. The judge has previously vowed to remove as many members of the commission as possible.
According to magistrates whose votes were bought by the two senators, the government rationalised the heavy bribery on the basis that it wants to ensure that it has a majority of JSC members on its side, the idea being that as it currently is, most members of the Commission are too independent for its liking. Being able to control the members, and therefore the decisions, of the JSC is part of government’s overall political agenda and strategy.
One senator who has earned himself the unenviable reputation of being a political loose talker was overheard during the voting as saying that “government must have a say in the appointment of the Chief Justice and the deputy Chief Justice, and that the two positions must be shared fairly between the URP and Jubilee. The current JSC is too sympathetic to the Opposition.
By hook or crook
“If our candidate doesn’t win, then we will change the law and force the JSC to nominate three candidates for each office on regional basis so that the president can select one of his liking,” he told the voters.
A number of reliable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Nairobi Law Monthly said the two senators brought a staggering Sh50 million on the morning of the vote while the senior judge came with Sh10 million. But even after buying as many votes as they could and promising some magistrates quick, easy promotion to the High Court, the scheme still failed in its scheme. At the final tally, Ms Ominde had garnered 185 votes Ms Mulecho’s 141. Ms Oseko managed just 65.
A jubilant Ms Ominde addressed her equally elated supporters to thank them for their confidence in her and the autonomy of the JSC, and appreciated the fact that they had demonstrated that “money can’t buy everything”. Speaking to the Nairobi Law Monthly shortly after her victory, Ms Ominde vowed to be loyal to her oath of office and promised “to discharge her constitutional obligation without fear or favour”.
Shocked by meddling
Liberal-minded magistrates who participated in the elections were shocked by the involvement and meddling of government in the elections. More dismaying and embarrassing, they said, was the fact that magistrates could be bribed so openly. “I think we now understand just what government’s plan is for the Judiciary, and how high the stakes are in the pending appointment of the chief justice and the deputy CJ,” one of them stated.
Speaking to the Nairobi Law Monthly, a High Court judge based in Nairobi who also requested anonymity, speaking to, had this to say: “I speak for many of my colleagues when I say the government’s desire to micromanage the Judiciary and whittle down its independence is now too clear to us. What has shocked many is the open bribing of individuals who are employed to dispense justice. Something equally worrying is why the government should spend over Sh60 million for a single seat in the JSC… Quite obviously, our government doesn’t want a robust, independent judiciary and JSC.”
Aware of the lengths government is willing to go, and how much it is willing to spend to have its way, observers will be keenly watching to find out if lawyers, who go to the polls in February to elect their female representative in the JSC, are will allow themselves to be compromised bribed as most magistrates were, or whether they will they show more political sophistication and deliver a clean vote.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that government is quite determined to go to go the whole hog, including perpetrating corruption and enacting outrageous laws, to control the Commission, with the selfish aim of appointing partisan heads of the Judiciary.