Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Tale of Kenya’s 21 Electoral Commissioners

Did you know that Kenya has the world’s largest number of Electoral Commissioners? Well, no country comes close. Not even our immediate neighbors, Uganda and Tanzania, which have seven commissioners each. Nigeria, which boasts Africa’s largest number of registered voters (58 million), has 12 commissioners. South African commission has six officials, whereas major western democracies like the United States and Britain have six officials each. The most shameful comparison comes with India, whose 670 million votes (60 times more than Kenya) are administered by four officials. So why does it take a multitude of commissioners to oversee electoral transparency in Kenya’s 12 million votes? Political patronage is the answer.

Our electoral commissioners have been political appointees ever since the country’s electoral law was legislated in 1963. The reintroduction of multi party politics in 1992 did not help. In fact, things got worse as political parties jostled for representation in the commission. Gradual increase of political interests has catapulted the number of commissioners from nine in 1991 to the current 21, including the Chairman and his deputy.

Most Kenyans would agree that their bloated electoral body has been a source of unnecessary political confrontations, which can be eliminated by reducing the number of commissioners. A smaller number, say five, would mean fewer positions for political parties to fight about. This would also foster scrutiny of candidates in parliament. Finally, only candidates who are well qualified and untainted by party politics would become electoral commissioners. And that could be the genesis of electoral transparency in the Kenya.

However, reducing the number of officials is by itself a political battle. But how else could we reform the commission? Chairman Kivuitu has suggested that we remold ECK’s composition to reflect the current political climate. Unfortunately, such proposals have been implemented three times before, but without much success. In fact, appointing commissioners to reflect the existing political climate is the main cause of ECK problems.

Consider that in 1992, membership was remolded to portray commitment to multiparty politics. In 1997, membership was altered through the IPPG to fit political demands of the day. The membership structure was also altered in 2003 to include members of the short-lived Rainbow Coalition. And for the fourth time in the fourth multi party elections, Kenyans want to repeat the same mistake knowing very well that it does not work. That must not happen. We Kenyans must not let political winds dictate structures of our civil institutions.

1 comment:

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