News 2008

 

Kivuitu's team under fresh pressure to quit



Daily Nation

Story by BERNARD NAMUNANE and CAROLINE WAFULA

10. March 2008



The Electoral Commission of Kenya came under sharp focus Sunday with leaders saying the team led by Mr Samuel Kivuitu must be disbanded before investigations into election irregularities begin this week.

Safina leader Paul Muite sparked debate on disbanding the polls team and called for the commissioners to be investigated “with a view to pressing criminal charges against them”.

ODM Members of Parliament Musalia Mudavadi and William Ruto backed supported Mr Muite’s calls.

Political crisis

However, Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi called for caution, saying no drastic measures should be taken so soon after President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement aimed at ending the political crisis sparked by the disputed presidential election results.

The Archbishop’s views were supported by Cotu general-secretary Francis Atwoli who said changes to ECK “must await comprehensive constitutional reforms”.

Mr Aden Sugow (PNU, Fafi) also said the fate of the commissioners should be decided after an independent review committee publishes its findings.

On December 30, ECK announced President Kibaki as winner of the polls, a verdict contested by ODM.

During mediation talks led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, negotiators from the Government and ODM agreed that a team to investigate election irregularities be set up by March 15.

The independent team was to present its findings within three to four months. The team, to be led by a South African judge, will also make proposals on how to reform the electoral system. It will include three foreigners and four Kenyans.

In a statement released Sunday, Mr Muite, the former Kikuyu MP, said: “The ECK must be disbanded immediately, or at the very least step aside to pave way for independent investigations of its conduct of the 2007 General Election.”

Investigations

He and other political leaders called for the resignation of the 22 ECK commissioners to pave way for the investigations expected to start before Saturday.

The calls came only two days before Parliament reconvenes Tuesday to debate four crucial Bills meant to entrench the power-sharing agreement in the Constitution and pass laws creating the posts of Prime Minister and two deputies, among other reforms.

Archbishop Nzimbi said that the coalition government to be formed after Parliament passes the Bills should be allowed “to settle down” before any drastic action is taken against ECK.

But while supporting Mr Muite, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Ruto argued that the commissioners should step aside so that the Annan committee works without any hindrance.

Their views were backed by Law Society of Kenya chairman Okong’o O’Mogeni, who also called for the resignation of the commissioners.

According to Mr O’Mogeni, the commissioners’ resignation was overdue.

According to him, ECK was one of the weakest institutions in the country.

“There are some institutions that need to be reformed immediately and ECK is one of them. We should have it reconstituted well in advance even as we prepare for comprehensive reforms,” the LSK chairman said.

Mr Mudavadi said the conduct of ECK triggered the political crisis that left over 1,200 people dead and over 300,000 displaced in one month of violence.

He said: “The Kofi Annan independent review is coming to inquire into the irregularities of the elections, which fell under supervision of ECK. Good ethical standard is that they should step aside to allow the review to take place as they may try to obstruct the functioning of that team.”

ECK not only faced a crisis locally, but also internationally, the LSK chairman said.

But Mr Sugow of PNU and Mr Atwoli urged Kenyans to focus on the impending formation of a new government when debate opens in Parliament Tuesday.

“In as much as we know that there were flaws during the elections and the ECK takes much of the flak, we should wait for the findings of the review team. We are trying to heal from the election wounds and radical steps should not be taken one after another,” the MP said.

However, Mr Ruto said the ECK commissioners should voluntarily resign “for overseeing a flawed poll”.

“Any Kenyan who is reasonable expected that as a show of remorse for taking the country to the dogs, the ECK commissioners should have voluntarily resigned,” said the Eldoret-North MP.

However, he said the commissioners enjoyed constitutional protection and could not be easily ejected from office based on demands from politicians.

Before constitutional office holders can be sacked, the law requires that the President appoints a tribunal to investigate them.

Last week, National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende described the commission as the “epicentre” of the events that plunged the country into chaos.

On Sunday, Mr Muite, who is a lawyer, proposed that should the commissioners fail to resign, Parliament must amend the law to send them packing.

But Archbishop Nzimbi differed. In a telephone interview, he said: “It is obvious there were serious anomalies but right now we should allow the present ECK to continue with conducting the by-elections”.

And speaking to the Nation on phone, Mr Atwoli said the country was still politically volatile and the new government should be given a chance to look at the issue.

Contacted, ECK commissioner Jeremiah Matagaro declined to comment.

 

 

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