News 2008

 

ECK given marching orders



Daily Nation

Story by GITONGA MARETE

11. March 2008



A group of activists stormed an Electoral Commission of Kenya meeting Monday and demanded that the commissioners resign in seven days.

The activists threatened to mobilise the public to evict the 22 commissioners from office unless they stepped down.

But ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu later issued a statement saying the commissioners deserved a hearing at the Kofi Annan-led Independent Review Committee scheduled to inquire into the December 27 election irregularities.

The group meeting under the National Civil Society Congress also threatened to evict the commissioners from the Sun ‘N Sand Beach Resort in Kilifi where they were meeting to review the commission’s performance last year.

Among those who confronted Mr Kivuitu and the commissioners was Mr Okiya Omtatah Okoiti, who challenged them to quit to pave the way for an inquiry expected to start before Saturday.

In January, Mr Okoiti was briefly arrested after he chained himself to the gate of Police Headquarters in Nairobi.

“We are giving you seven days to vacate office, failing which we shall mobilise the public to evict you,” Mr Okoiti said.

The demand came only a day after former MP Paul Muite challenged the commissioners to resign.

Mr Muite’s call was supported by two ODM MPs. However, Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli and a PNU MP called for caution.

During Monday’s confrontation, which lasted over an hour, Mr Kivuitu did not respond to the protesters.

Public condemnation

But he later issued a statement in which he took issue with media reports demanding that his team resigns. He said the calls amounted to “public condemnation of the ECK”.

Like other constitutional office holders, ECK commissioners enjoy security of tenure and their removal can only be recommended by a tribunal appointed by the President.

Mr Kivuitu said the commission should be given an opportunity to defend itself in a competent forum.

“The press reports undermine the review of the electoral process recommended by the Annan mediation team,” Mr Kivuitu said. “Due process must be followed in determining any wrongdoing by the commission or its staff”.

Mr Kivuitu reiterated that the commission supported an impartial investigation by a competent body into its conduct of the General Election.

Last December, the ECK came under criticism for declaring President Kibaki winner of the elections, a verdict contested by ODM. The dispute over the results sparked month-long violence in which over 1,200 people were killed and 350,000 displaced.

On Monday, the more than 50 activists sang songs condemning the ECK before singing the National Anthem. They accused ECK of “being responsible for the chaos which rocked the country.”

“The ECK is to blame for the death of over 1,000 people during the post-election violence because they had presided over a deeply flawed election,” said Mr Sam Ongoro, who had organised the lobbyists meeting.

As the group took turns to lecture the ECK officials, commission members including Mr Kivuitu sat and watched.

“You have no business remaining in office pretending to be holding brief for the Kenyan people,” Mr Ongoro said.

According to him, the commissioners were spending millions of tax payers money in hotels “yet they failed Kenyans at the hour of need”.

The ECK commissioners have been under pressure to resign.

Sabatia MP Musalia Mudavadi and his Eldoret North counterpart, Mr William Ruto were among those who supported calls by Mr Muite. Law Society of Kenya chairman Okong’o O’Mogeni also supported the resignation calls.

He described ECK as one of the weakests institutions in the country.

Mr Okoiti, who read a statement on behalf of the NGOs, said the commission did not have the moral authority to be part of the national healing and reconciliation. He demanded that the hotel management evicts the commissioners.

“The commissioners at least owe this country an apology for what they did,” said Sheikh Ramadhan of the Nubian Forum.

Four-day workshop

During the four-day workshop that ends on Wednesday, the commissioners and senior ECK staff are expected to evaluate their performance during last year’s General Election.

In their report, the EU said that the civic and parliamentary elections had commanded the confidence of Kenyan people. But according to them, the presidential election had fallen below international standards.

As part of efforts to resolve a dispute over the presidential election results, the African Union mandated former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to mediate peace talks between President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The two leaders signed a power-sharing agreement on February 28.

 

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