A new battlefront has emerged between Deputy President William Ruto and the Handshake partners President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga over changes to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ahead of the next polls.
The new divisions were triggered by the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs (JLAC) committee's decision to hold meetings this week to discuss pending Bills related to the operations and composition of the IEBC.
The newly reconstituted Justice and Legal Affairs committee under Kangema MP Muturi Kigano and his Rarieda counterpart Otiende Amollo, both allies of President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga respectively, are racing against time to consider necessary legislations that will enable the electoral agency to conduct a free and fair elections in 2022.
Currently pending before Parliament are the Election Campaign Financing (Amendment) Bill, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (Amendment) Bill and the Referendum Bill.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend section 36 of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Act to guide the redrawing of electoral boundaries.
There is also a proposal to provide a mechanism for recruitment of new electoral commissioners.
The committee vice chairperson Otiende Amollo said the committee has already convened a meeting this week to discuss the legislations.
"We have already met as a committee and planned a series of meetings to discuss all the pending Bills but it's not just consideration of the bills. The most fundamental thing at the moment is to look at IEBC holistically," Dr Amollo told the Sunday Nation.
"We will not just consider the Bills but also check whether IEBC, as currently constituted, can conduct not only a referendum, but also elections," Dr Amollo added.
But on Saturday, allies of Mr Ruto vowed to block any proposals to drastically alter the commission, changes they say would deny their candidate a level playing field before the next presidential elections.
Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Caleb Kositany, who is also DP's de-facto spokesperson, said that with less than two years to the next General Election, there is no need of reconstituting the electoral body. In what looked like an attack on the ODM, the Soy MP said it is only those who are not ready to accept election results that are pushing for an overhaul of the IEBC.
"The current IEBC can manage the next elections. Remember in the Kriegler report, there was a suggestion that we should not change the IEBC two years to an election.
"What needs to be done right now and should be fast tracked, is to add the four commissioners so that it is fully constituted to prepare and run the 2022 elections," said Mr Kositany
"Any talk about changing IEBC now is not healthy and it will be unconstitutional. It does no matter who is in IEBC, what matters is the votes of Kenyans. We must stop this perception that having your own IEBC will give you an upper hand. The real deep state or system is voters," Mr Kositany added.
In a previous interview with Sunday Nation, ODM leader Raila Odinga also called for the overhaul of the IEBC before the 2022 elections.
Minority Whip Junet Mohamed who also sits in JLAC told off DP allies saying Kenyans cannot go to the polls with IEBC as currently constituted.
"We must reconstitute IEBC before going to the polls as that is the only way Kenyans can regain confidence in the commission. Why are the DP allies opposed to reforms at IEBC, or they think the current commissioners will favour their candidate?" Posed Mr Mohamed.
There are four vacancies for commissioners at the IEBC after resignation of vice chairperson Cornie Nkatha Maina and commissioners Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya in 2018, leaving Chairman Wafula Chebukati and Commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu in office. Commissioner Roselyne Akombe resigned prior to the October 26, 2017 repeat presidential election.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi also called on the legal committee to be proactive and pass the necessary legislations on time to avoid last minute rush.
"I'm aware of some court judgments that urged Parliament to review election related laws touching on among other matters, procurement of election materials before the next election. This needs to be looked at now and early enough," Mr Muturi added.
"The need for constitutional changes has gathered momentum across the political divide. This House will be called upon to play a major role in the architecture of the proposed constitutional amendments. When the times comes, we must give it our best and conduct our leadership roles with utmost diligence," Speaker Muturi said.
Disadvantage the DP
President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister support a proposal contained in the BBI report that allows political parties to nominate commissioners to the electoral agency, a move which Ruto men yesterday claimed is meant to disadvantage the DP.
For Belgut MP Nelson Koech, another vocal Ruto ally, the move will not only be "unwise and undemocratic" but it will lead to election mayhem.
He said ODM hs been losing elections and should desist from looking for shortcuts and face the people.
Mr Koech claimed that ODM gained control of the Justice and Legal Affairs committee both in the Senate and the National Assembly so that they can "meddle" with IEBC.
"Is it because a perennial player has never won a game and is therefore demanding for space at the referee's table? We will lose the plot if we keep fixing every suggestion on a serious document just to please everyone and have their support during a referendum," said Mr Koech.
"I am also wondering whether the logic of having party representatives at the helm of an electoral body will cascade down to junior staff of the commission where we will as well have representation. ," he added.
According to Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, it is time for the President set up a selection panel after the National Assembly and the Senate differed over the number of persons to be appointed to a panel that will recruit four commissioners at the electoral agency.
"The president should set up a selection committee to advertise ...interview...and select names for him to appoint from in accordance with the law. Allowing political parties to meddle is allowing busy bodies to meddle in a matter that is spelt out clearly by the law," said Mr Barasa.
Former Justice and Legal Affairs committee chairman William Cheptumo drafted the Bill that will also compel the nominating bodies to submit names of their choices within seven days to the PSC for onward transmission to the President for appointment.
But in its Bomas report, the 14-member BBI team led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, proposes that leaders of parties with at least one MP be given a role in the recruitment in the commission.
They "should nominate individuals who are non-partisan, with a record of accomplishment and integrity, and who are not known political supporters or activists", the team recommends.
ODM and Mr Kenyatta's camp in Jubilee have already thrown their weight behind the political parties model akin to the one used in 1997 under the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG), where outfits were allowed to name people to the agency.
And ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna accused DP allies for being dishonest and insincere arguing that the suggestion of having political parties have a say in the selection of IEBC commissioners should not be taken as a plan of both the President and former premier.
"The proposal was contained in the BBI report at Bomas which everyone including Ruto said they loved. How then can they turn around to point fingers? It is extremely dishonest for Ruto and his allies to turn against a report they accepted," said Mr Sifuna.
In 1997, Kenya adopted the IPPG model that allowed parties to name people to the electoral commission.
Mr Samwel Kivuitu was named the electoral agency chief, replacing Justice Zacchaeus Chesoni, whose appointment by President Daniel Moi in 1991 was opposed by opposition parties with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, saying:
"He cannot serve even as a member of a school committee."
Additional reporting by Justus Wanga