IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan. IEBC announces 2013 election date and sets the stage for the next political battle between Kibaki and Raila. Photo: File/Standard

Gichugu MP Martha Karua, who plans to run for president, expressed surprise that the Kibaki Government was “extending its own term illegally”. She challenged ODM, which also wants a December poll, to force the collapse of the Grand Coalition by withdrawing his party before or in October this year.

“Walk out of the Government and save us from this agony,” she dared.

Potential rival and Eldoret North MP William Ruto also questioned the legality of keeping President Kibaki in power well into 2013, saying it did not reflect the public mood. The front-runner in the race, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, argued March was not ideal for an election, as it would conflict with education and farming activities. He also pointed out that there was a long tradition of elections in December that was being disrupted needlessly.
Electoral officials on Saturday said they had settled on the first Monday of March as provided for in a January Constitutional Court ruling. However, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has been accused of acting prematurely because a challenge to that ruling was yet to be determined. The Court of Appeal is expected to rule on an application filed by civil society organisations under the G10 banner this Thursday.

IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan says his team went ahead and set the date because President Kibaki and PM Raila Odinga had failed to agree in writing to dissolve the Grand Coalition Government to allow for the polls to be held this year. This was one of the options provided for in the advisory opinion offered by the Court in January. Hassan met with Kibaki and Raila separately on Wednesday last week on the matter (see separate story) and says the commission had consulted widely on the options available.

Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said he was surprised by the twists and turns since he thought the polls would be held this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said the G7 alliance would form the next government whether elections were held this year or not.

IEBC says it relied on the Constitution, the Elections Act and the judgement delivered on January 13 on the date for the election. Judges Isaac Lenaola, David Majanja and Mumbi Ngugi, sitting as a Constitutional Court, while delivering the landmark ruling gave two options. They said the General Election could only be held in 2012 within sixty days from the date on which the National Coalition is dissolved by written agreement between Kibaki and Raila. The second option — which IEBC adopted — was that Kenyans would go to the polls within 60 days from the expiry of the term of the National Assembly on January 15, 2013. The ruling was also categorical it was up to the IEBC to determine the exact date of the polls.

Addressing a news conference at a Nairobi hotel on Saturday, Hassan said the IEBC has opted for the second option since their first one is outside their control. It is not clear whether Raila and Kibaki have had face-to-face meetings on the issue and whether they were waiting for the Court of Appeal ruling before any discussions on disbanding the Grand Coalition.

“Due to the circumstances, IEBC is, therefore, compelled to proceed with Option B, which requires that we fix an election date within 60 days from the expiry of the term of the 10th Parliament,” said Hassan.

Shortly after the January 13 ruling, civil society organisations moved to the Court of Appeal seeking to quash the finding that the President and Prime Minister had leeway to determine the polls date by breaking up the coalition. The group argued that the finding was erroneous as it gave the two power to call the next elections, which goes against the spirit of the Constitution.

On Saturday Raila was swift in reacting to the IEBC election date saying he would like to see the next General Election held in December 2012. In a statement by his Communication Secretary Dennis Onyango, Raila said he had made this position clear to the members of IEBC when they met with him on Wednesday.

“The Prime Minister prefers December to any other date for elections because it is a date Kenyans are familiar with and used to. All elections since 1992 have been held in December,” the statement read. He said a March election would prolong the life of the current administration and Parliament while cutting short the life of the next by several months, something he termed “self-serving and unjustifiable”.

Speaking at Gusii Stadium in Kisii County during celebrations to mark 100 years of Catholic evangelization in the region, Raila and Kalonzo said Kenyans will determine whether elections will be held this year or not.

In a rare show of solidarity, Raila and Kalonzo argued that IEBC must consider public opinion, which they say is strongly for elections this year. Kalonzo said he was surprised by latest twist but called for the nation to remain united even as the row over the election date gains momentum.

Speaking separately, Narc-Kenya’s Martha Karua challenged the Prime Minister to walk out of the Grand Coalition Government if he truly wants a December election. She dared the PM to break up the Government in October so that the elections could be held in December.

“As Narc-Kenya, we are doing our part but the PM has the power to do more,” Karua said during a press conference at Narc-K headquarters in Nairobi on Saturday. “Walk out and save us from this agony.”

ODM party through its Secretary General Anyang Nyong’o said the Kenyan people prefer that the next General Election be held in December, preferably on the 17th as the Cabinet had previously recommended. He said the party urges all ODM leaders, members and supporters and the general public to support this stand. Nyong’o said the IEBC should avoid any temptation of serving any sectarian interests through extension of the life of the Grand Coalition.

In his Press conference, Hassan said the country needed to know the election date, adding IEBC had the mandate to remove the uncertainty, anxiety and suspense surrounding the matter. He said that IEBC appreciated some Kenyans may have preferred an earlier election date but appealed for understanding and support in delivering a peaceful, free, fair and credible election. The IEBC head said credible elections are deliberate designs of painstaking planning, logistics and collaboration of all key players and stakeholders. He added IEBC in setting the date had considered that political parties must comply with the provisions of the Political Parties Act by April this year.

“So far only four political parties have complied,” said Hassan.

He added that IEBC also took into consideration the requirement that the High Court shall hear and determine applications filed in respect of the published final report outlining boundaries of constituencies and wars within three months.

Hassan said IEBC had also considered the issue of procurement of electoral materials and recruitment of personnel, mapping of new electoral units, voter education on the new electoral units, fresh voter registration and inspection of the voters register. The setting of the election date was also guided by the fact that potential candidates must refrain from directly or indirectly participating in public fundraisings or harambees within eight months preceding a General Election. There is also a requirement for public officers to resign from office at least eight months before contesting in polls.

“The need for certainty regarding the date of the polls is a matter of immense public interest, legal and administrative concern,” said Hassan. “The IEBC must, therefore, conform to the rigid steps leading to the election date.”

By MUTINDA MWANZIA, The Standard

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