Kenya Supreme Court clarifies a common sense interpretation of duties of IEBC Chairman as National Returning Officer

Daily Nation: “Chebukati cannot edit poll results“:

In their judgement, five judges of the court said where there are discrepancies between results in Forms 34A and 34B, the chairman should announce the results and leave the matter to the court.

The judges said Mr Chebukati has the duty to verify the results as transmitted electronically.

However, whenever he detects errors, he should notify the parties, observers and the public and leave it to the election court.

. . . .

However, the Supreme Court faulted Wafula Chebukati, who is national returning officer, of announcing the winner before comparing the results in Forms 34A and 34B.

The court stated, “There can be no logical explanation as to why in tallying the Forms 34B into Forms 34B into the Forms 34C, this primary document (Forms 34A) was completely disregarded.”

I would say that the underlying factual–if not “logical”–explanation is that Mr. Chebukati gambled on August 11, likely under great pressure, that the “Maina Kiai decision” left unappealed by the IEBC, left a loophole that could be exploited to announce a national “result” early from the purported constituency returns in spite of the knowledge that a huge number of the polling station returns had not been transmitted as required by law.  This gamble did not work and Mr. Chebukati has now obtained from the Supreme Court notice to all interested parties that it still will not work going forward.

Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion [Updated]

UPDATE–April 21: Read Kenyan lawyer Wachira Maina’s devastating critique of the Court’s opinion from the new East African. Or at the AfriCOG website here: “Verdict on Kenya’s presidential election petition: Five reasons the judgement fails the legal test”.

Here is the full Kenyan Supreme Court opinion released this morning. It’s 113 pages, but most all of it is taken up by accounts of some of the arguments presented by the various attorneys.

The Court elected to apply a standard of proof that would require “in the case of data specific electoral requirements” petitioner to prove irregularities “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Overall, the Supreme Court simply deferred to the IEBC to decide how to run the election. The Court justified its constrained rulings on allowing evidence on the basis of strict and very short deadlines which it asserts are justified by the importance of the Presidential election–thus leaving more detailed trials for the more than 180 other challenges filed so far in the Courts below for the other races.

The Court did not give rulings on the admission of evidence such as the videotapes presented by AfriCOG’s counsel of results being announced at the County level that differed substantially from those announced by the IEBC at its national tally centre in Nairobi, or otherwise grapple with any specifics of reported anomalies, including those among the sample of 22 polling stations that were to be re-tallied. Nor did it address the fact that its order to review all 33,000 Forms 34 and the Forms 36 from all constituencies was only slightly over half completed.

The Court declined to impose legal consequences in terms of the announced election outcome from the failure of the IEBC’s technology, but significantly did find that the main cause of the failures of the electronic voter identification system and the electronic results transmission system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.”

See my previous post asking why we should trust the IEBC in light of the procurement integrity failings.

In closing, I have to note that the Court gave itself an extra two weeks after the deadline for its ruling to make any kind of explanation for that ruling. Then gave itself an additional two days. Similar flexibility in considering the facts of the case itself could have allowed it to do a more credible and substantive job of actually reviewing the election.

[Updated] “The People’s Court” launch Friday morning in Nairobi

Update: Here is the story from The Star.  And here is “The People’s Court”!

The Daily Nation coverage is here.

10:00am Friday at the Sarova Stanley in Nairobi InformAction and AfriCOG will launch a new online collaboration:

The website is a joint project between AfriCOG and InformAction and is an attempt to present in public all the evidence around the recent elections. Some of that is from the cases filed at the Supreme Court, but it will also include material and information from citizens, observers and others. Citizens will be provided a location to post /Number to send text messages in order to submit any information and evidence they gathered so that the complete truth on the recent elections can emerge.

Importantly, The People’s Court will be an accountability mechanism on the IEBC and the Supreme Court. Analysis of the Court’s decision will be posted on the website hoping to engender critical and constructive discussions on why they took the decision that they did, in the face of the evidence that will be presented.

The People’s Court gives the public unique access to all the evidence filed at the Supreme Court in the Civil Society petition challenging the election process.

By inviting citizen participation, we aim to make institutions accountable and uphold the high democratic standards of the constitution. We also hope that the website will be used as a forum for debate and opinion, celebrating freedom of expression in Kenya and our vibrant tradition of democracy activism.

How serious is Kenya’s IEBC about strict enforcement and prosecution of election law violations?

From a Daily Nation headline story on fines and jail time for election law violators:

A candidate who uses public wealth in political campaigns will be fined Sh10 million or jailed for six years.

If Mr Miguna Miguna were to repeat his feat of wrestling Chepalungu MP Isaac Rutto to the ground at the main tallying centre, he would be liable to a Sh1 million fine or a jail term of five years.

Even a thirsty voter who accepts a bottle of water or soda from a political party representative could find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law.

These are among a wide range of offences contained in the Elections Act to curb vote rigging, hooliganism and bribery as Kenyans head to the polls scheduled for March 4, 2013.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) bosses have promised to enforce the law to the letter and appealed to all politicians and voters to follow it.

“We have to learn from the lessons of 2007/08. . . .”

. . . .

Commission chief executive James Oswago said the laws would be enforced following the creation of the departments of prosecution and investigations at the IEBC.

“We are in a position to investigate offences and prosecute cases without referring to any other authority,” he said.

Offences range from falsifying and buying voters cards, double registration, conduct at polling stations, secrecy of commission staff, undue influence, bribery, use of violence, use of public resources and use of national security organs to gain advantage.

Obviously this would be revolutionary if the IEBC could pull it off. This would create a whole new kind of campaign in Kenya–suddenly, this year. See Vote Buying and Women Candidates in Kenya.

While I am certainly all for the concept, there is also an important lesson in the saying “you have to crawl before you can walk”.  For one thing, enforcement authority in the Electoral Commission is a new thing and the capacity has to be created from scratch with the campaign already ongoing.  And the culture of politics in Kenya certainly won’t change overnight.  To date, there have been no prosecutions of even the most egregious election offenses at the highest levels from the last election, much less the rampant “garden variety” vote buying.  Impunity has a fifty-year history.

Just as with implementation of the latest technologies, the new IEBC needs to be careful about realism and resources–and maintaining its credibility by not over-promising while trying to do more than is possible in its inaugural effort.  A lot of sober judgment is going to be required to prioritize and focus enforcement in an evenhanded way that weeds out the worst offenses and ends up generating real progress that Kenyans can see and “buy”.