Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati, right, talking to presidential aspirants Stephen Owoko, left, and Ekuru Aukot at Nairobi Safari Club on May 23, 2017.
By John Ngirachu And Ibrahim Oruko
People who dream of becoming president have come face-to-face with reality, and the prospect of being locked out of the race by the law.
Not only should independent presidential candidates produce signatures of 48,000 supporters, at least 2,000 from a majority of the counties, but all those supporters should not belong to any political party.
And they can’t tell which of their supporters is a member of a political party because the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has not released the register, and does not expect to until next month, long after the expiry of deadlines.
The situation is worse for gubernatorial candidates.
They were required to produce 2,000 signatures from the county by the end of the day on Monday.
Trouble was, the IEBC had not published their names in the Kenya Gazette which it must do before they are given the forms for collecting the signatures of supporters.
Hopefuls received the news of the legal requirements with shock, with some, such as the fiery Nazlin Umar, promising to go to court.
Many of the aspirants appeared genuinely unaware that the law requires them to provide signatures of supporters and that they must be unaffiliated.
IEBC was meeting 19 aspirants for president, some who sent representatives, for the first time.
Ms Umar said that given that the Registrar of Political Parties took two weeks to clear the thousands of independent candidates, it was unrealistic to expect the IEBC to check whether the minimum 48,000 signatures each candidate is supposed to present belong to people who are members of parties.
“Clearly, IEBC has set a trap to rule out independent candidates in Kenya,” she said.
She added that from IEBC’s requirements, each candidate would then need to have the registers of all the parties so that they can verify that those offering to sign the nomination forms are not members of any of the parties.
“It is nonsense and IEBC has no business checking the details of the voters,” said Ms Umar.
Mr Muthiora Kariara, another independent candidate, also complained about this: “You’ll be getting very negative reactions on this point.”
LOCK OUT ASPIRANTS
Dr Jeff Kaluyu, who told journalists he had arrived from his base in the United States just 48 hours to the meeting, said this provision could lock out 90 to 95 per cent of the aspirants.
“The IEBC should consider and accommodate us. They can always extend the deadline because they had not told us about this,” said Dr Kaluyu.
Monday, May 22, was the deadline for submission of the list of supporters and their signatures.
“We have received some. We have not received some,” said Ms Rosemary Akombe, one of the commissioners.
The presidential candidates are supposed to hand in their nomination documents to the IEBC at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre on Sunday and Monday.
Those gunning for the Senate should do the same on the same days at county headquarters across the country, woman representative hopefuls on May 30 and 31 and governors on June 1 and 2.
MP and MCA aspirants will be doing the same at constituency headquarters on June 1 and 2.
With the deadline already gone, it could mean that the aspirants must rush back to the field to get the required names and signatures.
Getting the 2,000 signatures in each of a majority of the counties (24 out of 47) has not been a problem for presidential candidates with a national profile and network, but could be a significant factor in separating the real players from those who merely have an interest.
KEPT IN THE DARK
In Nairobi, the same problem manifested itself as aspirants complained that they had been kept in the dark about the preparations.
The aspirants, who had attended the commission’s pre-nominations meeting at the Moi Sports Centre, Kasarani, accused the county returning officer, Mr Joseph Mele, of providing misleading information and creating procedures outside the law.
This was after Mr Mele asked the aspirants to submit a list of 2,000 people not affiliated to any party, but registered as voters in Nairobi by the end of yesterday, before they can be cleared to contest.
The idea of Tuesday as the deadline triggered anger among the aspirants and tempers flared briefly as they demanded to know why Mr Mele’s position was different from his predecessor, Ms Ruth Kulundu, who was transferred to Siaya during the recent reshuffle.
Mr Mele said it was important for the aspirants to submit their lists in advance to allow the commission to verify whether those listed are registered voters and whether they are members of political parties.
“It is to your benefit to submit these lists in advance so that you are not subjected to very long clearance processes. We don’t want you to spend too much time as we verify the list of voters you will submit,” he said.
There was more confusion when the aspirants complained that the commission had by yesterday not published their names in the Kenya Gazette as required by law and can’t, therefore, obtain the necessary forms from the commission to collect voters’ signatures.
They accused the commission of a sinister scheme against them.
“You are confusing us and putting the commission in serious trouble,” said Mr Miguna Miguna, aspiring governor for the city county.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati told the presidential aspirants meeting in Nairobi that the commission was working in line with the law.
“We have no intention of acting outside the law. As a commission, we cannot change this. We cannot come and change this unilaterally. Let’s follow the law as far as we can because it’s the law that guides us,” he said.
The Constitution requires that a presidential candidate be nominated by “not fewer than 2,000 voters from each of a majority of the counties.”
The Elections Act is more explicit on independent candidates: “The persons who nominate an independent presidential candidate shall not be members of any political party.”