Kenya has moved a step closer to having a new Electoral Commission after Parliament approved a list of proposed new members. Parliament on Thursday afternoon unanimously approved a list of nine nominees to the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC). The chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on constitution review Mohammed Abdikadir said that the approval marked the beginning of institutional reforms in the country. “This is our country and this House has talked the talk of reforms for so long. The House has adopted a report by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review finally sealing the electoral vacuum that has faced the country over the last four months.
"Its time for us to walk the talk and this afternoon (Thursday) we are starting on a good foot, if this House can approve the names of IIEC so that reforms in that sector can be underway once and for all,” he said.Vice chairman Ababu Namwamba said that the team was nominated competitively and on merit.
The report on the proposed Interim Independent Electoral Commission will now be passed on to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga for appointment. MPs said the team had to work fast and prepare for a referendum as soon as possible, in order to help in the implementation of the much-talked about Agenda Four on reforms. The new team will contend with a packed agenda: voter registration, pending by-elections and a complete overhaul of the electoral system. The MPs also urged the IIEC secretariat to rid itself of tribalism and find a way of settling all political disputes. The House adjourned early at 4.00 p.m. after only a handful of MPs contributed to the Motion expressing their confidence in the new team headed by lawyer Ahmed Issack Hassan. He will replace former ECK Chairman, Samuel Kivuitu who bungled the 2007 Kenya election.
Attorney General Amos Wako gave the new team a thumbs-up and asked them to stick to the law even as they discharged their mandate. Unlike the previous list, which was rejected by Parliament including the PSC members, Mr Namwamba said.“The committee has taken time to have consensus and the list enjoys the full confidence of the members. We have faith in the professionals nominated. We have no doubt that this team will live up to the expectations of Kenyans.”He further said that the committee believed the team would restore confidence in the electoral body following the outcome of the 2007 General Election.“The nominees have an enormous responsibility of reviving and re-installing the faith of Kenyans,” he said, while appealing to the President to quickly assent to the list so that the team can begin its work. “Reform is going to be the guiding star of this team.”
The new team includes revised names of the chairperson and two members to replace those rejected by Parliament on February 18 on grounds of credibility. The House expressed reservations on the nomination of lawyer Cecil Miller for the position of chairperson and two nominees Mr Suleiman Buko and Capt (Rtd.) Charles Masinde after MPs argued that nominees to the electoral body must be persons of ‘high moral character and integrity.’
The PSC chaired by Mr Mohammed Abdikadir consequently re-advertised the chairman’s position and after further interviews picked Mr Ahmed Issack Hussein for the chairperson’s position, Mr Douglas Mwashigadi to replace Mr Buko and Mr Simiyu Abiud Wasike to replace Capt. (Rtd.) Masinde. About 20 candidates were interviewed for the chairman’s position. Assistant Ministers Joseph Nkaissery and Adan Duale led in calling on the IIEC to remain impartial in discharging its duties. The motion was moved Mr Abdikadir who said the team was “the core of institutional and Constitution reforms in the country.”
While seconding the motion, the committee’s Vice Chair Ababu Namwamba had asked Parliament to endorse the matter with utmost urgency “to seal the vacuum that existed in the country” following the dissolution of the ECK. Mr Namwamba asked the MPs to look at merit and not introduce private matters as was the case when Mr Miller was appointed to the seat. Tourism minister Najib Balala called for a “digital voting system” in the country and asked the new team to focus on integrity in the course of their work.
“From registration of voters, the voting itself and the announcement of results…all should be transparent,” he said. “The stability of the country depends on having an independent democratic Constitution. We also need honest leadership.” Vihiga MP Yusuf Chanzu asked the IIEC to consider staff of the former ECK.
The lack of an electoral body had left the country with an electoral vacuum that could precipitate a constitutional crisis in case the presidency falls vacant. The country also lacks both a voter register. The situation is further complicated by an unclear constitution that puts both the vice-president and prime minister in close contention of the presidency. While the constitution says that the VP would take over power for 90 days, the National Accord says the PM is an equal partner to the president.
Attorney General Amos Wako expressed his pleasure with the team as he acknowledged the members’ qualifications and experience.He urged them to efficiently use their expertise to make up for the lost time.“We have lost a few months but I am pleased by the fact that the nominees were appointed through a competitive process. For the first time we have qualifications for who a commissioner should be,” he said. To be considered for the post of commissioner, one must have a degree from a recognised university and must be of high moral character and integrity. One should also be qualified to be a High Court Judge.
Defence Minister Joseph Nkaissery said that the country was in a crisis owing it to the fact that there was no an electoral body and a register. “We are in a damaging situation, we have to pass the list today (Thursday) since there is a constitutional crisis. The next thing is to push the agenda forward,” he said. Tourism Minister Najib Balala emphasised on the need to demonstrate honest leadership that will win the faith of the Kenyan people back.He said it was important for the new team to lead the way and provide real changes that will satisfy the country.Once President Mwai Kibaki signs the list, the new electoral body will begin its work led by former Constitution of Kenya Review Commission member Ahmed Isaak Hassan.