“Electoral Commissions, Africa’s New Kingmakers” from The Independent in Kampala.
During the immediate weeks of violence and uncertainty in Kenya following the December 2007 election I had lunch with a politician from the western part of the country. This person had been in parliament but both lost out for re-election as a PNU candidate and was personally impacted by the violence. The story of the election as related from the perspective of this person for whom I have great respect was that as soon as President Kibaki acted unilaterally to appoint his own choices to fill the seats on the Electoral Commission of Kenya in the fall of 2007, the opposition figures in the area represented by this MP felt that it was clear that Kibaki and his team were committed to rigging the elections to stay in power and all bets were off. From that point, this person felt that their own chance for a fair election in an opposition oriented district were also taken away.
An election commission appointed by one candidate, a sitting president running for re-election, is a recipe for serious trouble. In Kenya the mechanism was in place through the 1997 Inter-Party Parliamentary agreement for collaborative appointment of the ECK membership. Unfortunately, the agreement had not been given binding force of law. When Kibaki chose to ignore the prior agreement and acted to fill the ECK with his own people, Western donors in public consoled themselves with the notion that the Kibaki’s last minute reappointment of the ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu, who had acquited himself appropriately in the 2002 election and the 2005 referendum (both landslides) would be enough to save the day. And Kibaki had not technically violated the letter of the law in making unilateral appointments.
Ultimately, we now know, Kivuitu was sidelined to allow the manipulation of the vote tallies, and was successfully pressured to go ahead and declare Kibaki the winner when he admittedly did not know who had won and to facilitate an extraordinary “quickie” swearing in of Kibaki that Sunday evening at State House.
In the case of Uganda, we have the determination of the Ugandan Supreme Court that there were serious problems with the last election in 2006. Althought the Ugandan Electoral Commission has just issued a statement denying incompetence and asserting that past problems have been addressed, this message on behalf of “the government” does not attempt to argue that the Commission is substantively independent from the incumbent administration.
What real excuse has Museveni offered to reject the concerns of donors to reform the Commission to secure a level playing field for 2011?