Q&A: Kenya’s upcoming general elections

Chief of independent electoral body says adequate steps taken to avert repeat of 2007-2008 violence during March 4 vote.

chair of the IEBC
Ahmed Issack Hassan is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission's leader [Nazanine Moshiri/Al Jazeera]

The countdown to Kenya’s next general elections scheduled for March 4 has begun.

Large-scale violence blighted the vote the last time around, and much of the blame for the 2007-2008 bloodshed that claimed about 1,000 lives was placed on the then Electoral Commision of Kenya for its poor management of the electoral process.

Now Kenya has a new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It will be responsible for ensuring free and fair elections.

Its Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan, a Kenyan lawyer, spoke to our East Africa Correspondent Nazanine Moshiri.

Nazanine Moshiri:  Mr Hassan, the future of this country lies in hands of how well IEBC conducts this election. What measures have you been taking to make sure this election is free and fair?

Ahmed Isaack Hassan: The way the commission was appointed was through a very transparent process. Our names had to go through parliament approval, and unlike 2007, the process was a little bit more consultative. We also have a limited term of six years, and commissioners have no allegiance to any party or anybody – just allegiance to the country and the people.

The way we appoint officers, those who conduct elections in the countryside and outside and who will announce winners has changed. They used to be part-time employees of the commission, but now they are fully fledged members of the commission, and they are personally accountable for their actions and they also hold criminal liability

NM: What will people face if they are found guilty of electoral fraud?

AIH: If you are found guilty of aiding and abetting electoral fraud you can go to jail for three years or you can be charged a fine of a million shillings (around $11,000) or both.

NM: Do you think that is enough to put people off?

AIH: Well, you cannot guarantee integrity into the law, all you can do is put integrity into the systems, which are also there to check people. So the way they conduct elections, the way they announce results, and the way they impose them is very transparent.

The commission has the power to cancel any election, which under the law has been announced under any irregular circumstances.

– Chairman Ahmed Isaack Hassan

From the referendum and the various parliamentary by-elections we have conducted, you will see that once they announce the results they will be posted outside the polling station and sent electronically to our national centre in real time. We have an agreement with the media, that we will give them a live feed from our server and they are able to pick the results as they come in in real time. And so the error of changing results as they come into Nairobi is over. Because whatever is sent, is sent in real time.

NM: Can you guarantee that you will not announce results that you are unsure about, that you feel are not right and are possibly rigged?

AIH: I can guarantee to all Kenyans that we will not announce any results that we know or have reason to believe are rigged. The commission has the power to cancel any election, which under the law has been announced under any irregular circumstances. But the checks and balances in the system will not allow me as a chairperson to announce a final result that has been rigged. We have checks and balances from the polling stations all the way to the Nairobi national centre.

Having said that, the results that I am going to announce for presidential election are a result of aggregated results. They would already have been announced all over the country in 290 constituencies.

NM: When do you think you will expect the first results to start coming out?

AIH: From our experience 80 percent of the country has GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) coverage, so it depends on how many voters we have in the polling stations. But I would say within 48 hours we would know the winner provisionally.

NM: What about civic education? Education of media houses – why hasn’t that started yet?

AIH: The amount of money given to us for education was very small. So we had to ask our donor community to help us fill in the gap, and we got some funding. We will begin the education but we are waiting for these primaries to end so we can start.

NM: Are all the candidates going to be vetted? There are questions over the credibility of some of the candidates running for the parliament and at a county level?

AIH: Candidates will be cleared in accordance with the law and the constitution. They need a certificate from the police, tax clearance and so on, so we then process them. They must fill in a form, and swear an oath that whatever you stated there is true. And if it’s found after that you lied under oath in that document then your election will be nullified by a court of law.

NM: What about the potential for conflict and violence? The IEBC has identified 27 potential hotspots around the country? What are you doing about security?

AIH: Our jobs is to manage the election in a credible and transparent way, as to the peaceful part of the election, it is up to all of us, the candidates, the supporters and also the security services. Yes, some parts of the country have experienced insecurity, and we as a commission asked the security organs to give us security, and we give them our security needs and they then deploy the officers in accordance with our security plans. We have enough security personnel to cover all those areas.

NM: But everyone knows you don’t have enough security personnel for all the polling stations around the country?

AIH: Since 2007 there has been a serious increase in the number of security personnel and the inspector-general of the police is allowed by law under the constitution and police service act, to appoint special police officers – members of Kenya forest service, Kenya wildlife service, and prison wardens – just for the election purposes, and I think they can cover the country at that time.

Source: Al Jazeera