Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tinga v the IEBC

If you can tell me why the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission's leadership is still in office, you have a greater perception of the thing of it than I do. If you can tell me why the IEBC has floated another tender for BVR kits, your powers of perception are god-like.

Kenyan opposition politicians have always had a schizophrenic relationship with the electoral management body of the day. Sometimes, like in 1997, the President bends and "reforms" are agreed upon between the ruling party and the opposition and the elections are contested on a more equal playing field. Sometimes, like in 2007, the President remains unmoved and unyielding and the outcome of the elections is violence, bloodshed and death.

When the Government of Kenya, in the aftermath of the 2007 general elections, turned on the Electoral Commission of Kenya, it signalled the death of sacred cows in Kenya's politics. This was cemented when the President asked for six of his Cabinet Secretaries to step aside from their official duties over corruption allegations and permitted their prosecution in the law courts. It should not be plain to the Commissioners of the IEBC that they are not sacred cows and that if they become a political liability for the ruling coalition, their fate will be decided swiftly and pitilessly and the BVR kits tender will be the reason why they are run over by a political Citi Hoppa.

The Commissioners forget a fundamental rule of the public service: unless you are a politician, it is unwise to declare political fealty to the president. For one, the president has no more than a ten-year mandate. Second, the only people who matter to the president are those who can guarantee the safety and stability of his government or who can guarantee the re-election of his government. That is not always the electoral management body, as the Supreme Court has been accused of being. When the Chairperson of the IEBC swore that intemperate affidavit during the hearing of the petition challenging the election of the president, he made enemies where none existed and now he has become the target of a highly motivated Tinga.

The Commissioners might look to the continued survival of the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and figure that they are safe too. That would be a mistake. The national Treasury is more important than the IEBC and its CS is more important than all constitutional commissions and their commissioners combined. They should instead learn lessons from the removal of the anti-corruption commissioners and the prosecution of Cabinet Secretaries. In fact, the resignation of the first Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary should reinforce the sense that sacred cows are a dime-a-dozen these days.

Tinga has time on his hands which he can fill with the devil's mischief or the Lord's work. It all depends on how the IEBC treats him. So far the IEBC has chosen arrogance and highhandedness. Everyone might be living under the illusion that August 2017 is right around the corner and that there is little that the doyen of opposition politics can do. But fifteen months is a very, very long time in politics and, as Ms Waiguru discovered, when Tinga sets his mind to something, he usually gets it done. The IEBC has a choice: accommodate Tinga's demands or resign. If not, the fall will be from very high up and it will be terrible.

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