Sunday, November 6, 2011

Elections can be held any time during 2012

Sunday Nation 06 November 2011

Last week, the chair of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, while being interviewed for the same post in the successor electoral body, asserted that “it will be impossible to hold elections in August 2012”. He went ahead and recycled the same arguments that have been presented in the past by the government, including the budgetary cycle, time for preparations, voter education and others in a similar vein.

As a layperson, I must admit that my reading of the law is usually very plain, and devoid of the refined nuances that I suspect are imparted in law schools all over the world. However, my understanding of the law is that everyone must strive to know it, and try to understand the implications. Indeed, the lawyers will be the first ones to tell us that ignorance of the law is not a legitimate defence.

It is in this spirit that I would politely beg to differ with the IIEC chairman. Making an assertion such as the one he made during the interview is dangerous, and indicates that Kenya is already facing a constitutional crisis.

Under the constitution and the laws of the land, it is a basic assumption that elections can be held at any time whenever necessitated by happenings in the political arena. Indeed, the IIEC has successfully carried out several by-elections and a referendum, without telling us that it is impossible to fulfil its mandate.

Ten months

Coming out 10 months before the scheduled date of elections to tell us that it is “impossible” to plan and organise elections on time is an admission of serious lack of foresight, and brings into question the competence of the chairman and his team.

Since it is clear that the IIEC and the government have identified possible bottlenecks that will make it difficult to hold a General Election in August next year, why have they not set in motion strategies to eliminate the constraints?

Why did the IIEC not include budget estimates for the next elections in the last budget? Why have they not begun voter education both locally and in the diaspora? Why have they not begun recruiting the manpower needed for elections in August, and identifying suppliers who may be approached for various services related to the elections?

If the IIEC and government have not started addressing these issues with the seriousness they deserve, one can only read a conspiracy to make it “impossible” to hold elections when they are due in order to facilitate some obscure agenda.

If, on the other hand, steps are already being taken to ensure that these problems are addressed, why is the IIEC chair supporting claims that elections cannot be held on schedule next year?

Further insight may be gained by reading Part 3 of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Section 9(2) of this schedule clearly anticipates the possibility that the coalition established under the National Accord may be dissolved even before 2012, resulting in a General Election as provided for under the Constitution.

Reading this section, and of course keeping in mind that nature has its own designs on our lives, what would the IIEC (or its successor) do in case vacancies arise in all elective posts in the republic before August next year? Will they just wring their hands and proclaim their impotence?

I don’t think so.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

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