Questions as first batch of ballots arrive
The national polls team is walking a tight rope amidst controversy over the printing of ballot papers before the gazettement of the candidates for the August 9, polls.
Divisions have emerged in the commission with some members claiming that they were only made aware of the shipment of the first batch of ballot papers received at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)yesterday on Wednesday evening.
At the same time, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission(IEBC) has dealt a major blow to some of the presidential aspirants who were barred from contesting for failure to submit the required documents, saying that the Justice Anthony Mrima ruling did not order the commission to include them in the final presidential ballot paper.
The major bone of contention is the printing of ballot papers before gazettement of candidates, with Azimio legal advisor Paul Mwangi arguing that the process was illegal.
Yesterday, the commission distanced itself from blame over delay in the gazettement of the candidates saying that there was a technical hitch at the Government Printer.
IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati explained that he signed the list of candidates on June 30, 2022 and transmitted them to the Printer on the same day. “We compiled the list of all the candidates and signed it on June 30. We submitted the list on the same day to the Government Printer. We understand that the Government Printer had some technical hitch and will publish the list anytime from now,” said Chebukati.
For the past one year, the commission has indicated that it was keen to put the necessary mechanisms and follow the procedures set out by the Supreme Court to prevent a repeat of the 2017 scenario when the presidential election was nullified.
IEBC Director of Legal Services Chrispine Owiye argued that their interpretation of the law is that once the chair has signed the list of candidates, then it is deemed to have been gazetted and that the only remaining part is for the Government Printer to gazette the candidates.
“Our interpretation is that the chairman of the commission signed the list on June 30 and submitted the same on the same day. This is what gave the commission power to ask the ballot printing firm to start the process. There has only been a hitch with the Government Printer,” said Owiye.
The commission cleared a total of 16,098 candidates to compete for political seats in the August 9 General Election. The more than 16,000 candidates will compete for the only 1,592 elective seats. Of these, there is one slot for president – against four candidates – 290 seats for Member of the National Assembly, 1,450 for Member of County Assembly and 47 each for the positions of governor, Woman Rep and Senator.
However, Mwangi differed with Chebukati on their interpretation on the legality of printing of the ballot papers arguing that in absence of the gazette notice, then the printed ballot papers are null and void.
“It is unfortunate that the commission has handled this matter in a cavalier manner. The gazettement is not yet complete by only signing the list of candidates. You cannot print the ballot papers in the absence of a gazette notice,” said Mwangi.
He went on: “What has been supplied are not ballot papers. You can only have ballot papers after the names have been gazetted.” Under the Elections General Regulations 51 (5) states that upon receipt of a certificate, the commission shall publish a notice in the gazette.
In what could point to divisions in the polls team, IEBC Vice chair Juliana Cherera revealed that the commissioners were only informed of the arrival of the ballot papers at JKIA at 8pm on Wednesday.
Cherera said the commission’s Project Implementation Committee, that has been working in tandem with the Greek-based printing firm, Inform Lykos, informed them of the shipment at night and that they had to rearrange their schedule.
“We have a Project Implementation Committee that informed the chair through the Commission’s secretary that the first batch of ballot papers were on the way. This was at 8pm and so we had to rearrange our plans of the day. The commissioners were only made aware of this development at 8pm last night (Wednesday),” said Cherera.
However, stakeholders are now questioning how the printer processed the ballots, packaged, transported and loaded them as cargo before dispatching them to Kenya without the commissioners’ knowledge.
The commission’s secretary Marjan Hussein Marjan said their Project Implementation Committee informed them of the shipment of the ballot papers that were to be received on Thursday.
Marjan said that Inform Lykos has a contractual obligation to print and deliver the materials in 30 days failing which they will be out of contractual terms. “We have a committee that implements projects. They are the ones that informed us last night (Wednesday). The vendor has a contractual obligation to print and deliver the ballot papers within 30 days,” said Marjan.
At the same time, Chebukati said that the commission has organised a trip to the Greek based firm so that the presidential candidates or their agents can oversee the printing of the presidential ballot papers between July 15-20. According to Marjan, the cost of printing the ballot papers is about Sh3.2 billion and that the Commission will facilitate a few stakeholders to visit Greece and oversee the printing of the presidential ballot, which will be the last to arrive in the country.
The commission, at the same time, said that the Justice Mrima ruling quashing regulations 18 of the Elections Regulations does not affect candidates already cleared to vie for the presidency in the August polls. He was responding to concerns that the Mrima ruling faulting the commission on the processing of independent candidates, opening debate that the polls agency could accommodate more competitors.
Owiye clarified that although they have received the full ruling, the commission was not ordered to include the names of those who were disqualified based on the quashed regulations.