East Africa

Kenyans in Disarray over Impending Elections

Kenya newspapers
Conflicting reports about when the next Kenyan elections will be held have confounded many Kenyans (Photo: AFP). 

In Kenya—as elsewhere—many complain that politicians say one thing one day, only to contradict themselves the next. This kind of equivocation characterizes the way Kenyan politicians speak about two current political controversies: the much-vaunted constitutional review process and the impending multiparty general election, Kenya’s third since independence. The seemingly conflicting statements coming from President Daniel arap Moi and the ruling Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) party have left Kenyans puzzled and anxious.

Many in the Kenyan press accuse President Daniel arap Moi of being behind the current political grandstanding. On June 2, after keeping everybody guessing on who is likely to be his successor (his second and last five-year constitutional term is due to end in December 2002), the president was quoted by the independent Sunday Nation as saying that he could call elections at any time according to the current constitution.

On the same day, the centrist Sunday Standard reported that Moi had said he had no intentions of extending his rule beyond his constitutional term. “People have been saying, Moi must go, Moi must go! But one day you will say Moi must come, Moi must come!” the paper quoted the president as saying.

On June 7, the independent Daily Nation printed the following quote from Moi: “We are known for holding our elections on schedule. We held our elections in 1997 and we are only seven months away from the completion of the term.” This statement was widely interpreted to mean that Kenyans would go to the polls no later than Dec. 29 this year, as happened in 1997. Yet a decision reached by KANU (Kenya African National Union) MPs on June 18 indicates that Kenyans might have to wait until 2003 for the next general election.

“KANU yesterday endorsed sensational recommendations to extend President Moi's tenure in office and that of Parliament for a period of one year," reported the leftist People’s Daily on June 19.

If approved by Parliament, this decision would mean that elections could be held in August next year. Amid protests from opposition politicians and threats of using mass action to oppose the move, KANU MPs said they made their decision in order to avert a constitutional crisis, since the expected new constitution could not be drafted by Oct. 4 this year.

"In essence, elections will be held next year under a new constitution if Parliament approves the KANU Parliamentary Group (PG)'s recommendations for the extension of the life of the current Parliament,” wrote the Kenya Times on June 19.

KANU’s latest maneuver has aroused heated debate. Opposition MPs argue that such a move would be tantamount to the extension of Moi’s rule, and would breach Section 59 of the country’s current constitution, which states that Parliament’s life can only be extended when the country is at war.

Moi was quick to distance himself from attempts to extend his term. On June 20, he insisted he had no intention of extending his rule. “Moi does not dictate to anybody,” The Daily Nation quoted him as saying, “All you are hearing is false…. My interest is to ensure that I leave the nation a secure place for all of the 30 million Kenyans when I leave office.”

The present controversy started on May 28, when a parliamentary select committee on the constitution, led by KANU’s Raila Odinga, proposed the extension of the present Parliament’s life, saying it was imperative that Kenyans go to elections under a new constitution.

Commentators in Kenya reacted angrily to the proposal. “If there is a time the patience of the nation has been pushed to the limit, it is by this self-serving and clearly ill-motivated intention of Members of Parliament to use deceit to extend their incumbency,” warned the People’s Daily in a May 31 editorial.

Even the centrist East African Standard, normally supportive of KANU, took issue with the proposal in a May 30 editorial, saying: “The proposal by Parliament’s Select Committee on the constitution to extend the life of Parliament, that of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CRCK), and to tie [constitutional] reforms to the General Elections, is not based on an objective reality. It serves this Parliament and is unlikely to go down fine with the rest of the public.”

On June 7, the People’s Daily quoted a coalition of opposition MPs dubbed “The National Alliance for Change” pointedly telling President Moi, “Kenyans have a right to make demands and selfless leaders are obliged to deliver. This is not the time to use the election date as a weapon [against] your people.”

But, true to his nature, Moi refused to be drawn out on when the election would be held. On June 8 the East African Standard editorialized: “Given the consistency with which President Moi has hinted at the election schedule, even without giving the exact date, there is nothing in his recent statements to suggest that he favors an extension of the life of the Eighth Parliament.”

Others disagreed. “Never mind what our old good politicians say, it is becoming increasingly clear that a constitutional crisis is looming [on] the horizon,” wrote Mwenda Njoka in the East African Standard (June 9).

Meanwhile, the People’s Daily of June 19 made a perceptive observation about KANU’s move to extend the life of the current Parliament: "The new development will also give President Moi a chance to celebrate his silver jubilee in office. The ceremony is likely to be held on August 23, next year, his 25th anniversary as president."

On June 13, the East African Standard reported that at a meeting called by a group of churches to resolve the “elections crisis,” both church leaders and opposition parties were unanimous that elections should be held this year, but “were divided on whether the poll should be conducted under the current, new interim constitution or minimum reforms.” KANU and the opposition have remained similarly riven.

Such is the distaste political commentators have for MPs that when Parliament passed a bill for the creation of 90 more constituencies, Magesha Ngwiri wrote in the independent Sunday Nation (June 16) that “this Parliament, has, for all practical purposes, turned to tyranny, and unless Kenyans are extra vigilant from now on, their representatives may do a great deal of damage before the General Election.”

“Why are politicians behaving as if the country is in a constitutional crisis?” asked Barrack Muluka in the East African Standard (June 16). He added: “The truth is that Kenya is not in a constitutional disaster. It is the politicians in KANU and in the opposition who are on the fringes of plunging the country into a constitutional mess.”

On June 18, the East African Standard reported that KANU would officially launch its campaign for the next general election on June 29 at a function to be presided over by President Moi.

Campaigns are all very well. But the question on the lips of many Kenyans remains: When will the elections be held?