Ongoing electoral processes, reforms impacted by Corona effects
As the country continues to grapple with the disruptions that have been occasioned by the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the desired electoral reforms that the country had been trying to put in place have not been spared from effects of Covid-19.
Electoral reforms had begun in earnest through Parliament, institutional reforms and processes like the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the Dialogue Reference Group (DRG) and Punguza Mizigo Initiative (PMI).
BBI was working on the completion of the public validation process and was set to develop a Constitutional Amendment Bill that would have been taken to Parliament for deliberation on the next steps.
The DRG had equally developed and published its reform proposals and was engaged in a similar process leading to the development of a reform bill. However, since these processes involved some form of public engagement, they had to be halted because of Covid-19.
The Elections Observation Group (ELOG) has been monitoring the reform process and it is clear that the pandemic will have a significant effect on the timeliness of electoral reforms.
If the current processes are not concluded in time for the next elections, the country may be underprepared to conduct them effectively.
As the National and the County governments continue to deal with the health issues, ELOG proposes that both Parliament and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) take a leadership role in reviewing the initial plans based on the current situation in order to guide the country on a revised calendar of electoral activities.
Under the prevailing circumstances, innovative ways of engaging the public and other stakeholders as well as concluding the wider electoral reform issues, should be devised.
Parliament should use the opportunity to discuss and enact the necessary legislations before them to facilitate upcoming processes.
During this electoral cycle the country also needs to address itself to other related electoral processes that include the proposed boundaries review, continuous voter registration and education, by-elections and political party processes without neglecting the momentum it had already established before the advent of the pandemic.
On the boundary review process, the commission publicly announced that it had prepared the Boundaries Review Operations Plan (BROP), to provide a roadmap for the exercise.
However, there were concerns that this crucial process was likely not to proceed as had been planned since the commission lacked both the required funds and the official census data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
Furthermore, a crucial legal instrument, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to operationalise the process was yet to be enacted by Parliament.
In this regard, therefore, it is imperative that the KNBS urgently shares the official census data with the commission so as to assist with planning and if necessary, the execution of the boundary review process.
The National Assembly should on their part move with speed to enact the Amendment Bill and work closely with the commission so as to enable the it to get the required funds for the exercise.
However, and bearing in mind the present circumstances and the above reflections ELOG urges the IEBC to reconsider undertaking the review process until after the 2022 elections since it will still be within the mandated timelines.
ELOG has also noted the need to conduct by-elections in number of elective positions occasioned by different factors.
These electoral areas include: Msambweni constituency, Wundanyi /Mbale ward in Taita Taveta county, Kahawa Wendani ward in Kiambu county, Dabaso Ward in Kilifi county and Kisumu North ward.
As a result of the Covid-19, the by-elections that were scheduled in these places were deferred to a later undisclosed date.
ELOG recognises that in conducting these elections, large meetings/gatherings would be inevitable during nominations, campaigns and actual polling day processes thus exposing people to dangers of contracting/and or spreading the disease.
Unfortunately, these areas remain un-represented, a violation of the voters’ rights to political representation.
ELOG urges that political rights as outlined in the Constitution be protected, promoted and fulfilled at all times even in the face of Covid-19.
In this regard, the IEBC and stakeholders need to start thinking of alternative ways of having the interest of those constituents represented and heard when such circumstances as the Covid-19 strike.
The IEBC also needs to start imagining ways of voting besides the usual voting vide physical presence in a polling station.
These measures would allow voting to take place remotely. They include electronic voting and postal voting.
The IEBC is mandated to conduct continuous voter registration and education. Noting that the impact of the current pandemic has also scaled down such activities, the IEBC ought to regularly share information with the public on the status of the registration as well as the education including considering alternative ways of conducting the same.
Political parties play a critical role in the electoral processes. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, a number of political parties had scheduled internal elections.
The Jubilee and Maendeleo Chap Chap parties had indicated intentions to hold their party elections in the first half of the year.
It is therefore, critical that these political parties share with the members and the public a communication on what is happening, their plans and possible revised time frames for their activities.
The Covid-19 hence presents both a serious challenge to the electoral timelines and an opportunity. As indicated above, the challenges are to the effect that a number of processes will be delayed.
For this, new timelines will have to be determined and developed. It also presents to the country an opportunity to review the responsiveness of its systems and structures for conducting electoral activities during emergencies.
— Regina Opondo is the chairperson of the ELOG Steering Committee and Executive Secretary of Constitution and Reform Education Consortium; Email: [email protected]
Mulle Musau is the ELOG National Coordinator; Email: [email protected]