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Kibaki Electoral Commission Appointments Draw Fire from Kenyan Opposition

President Mwai Kibaki’s recent appointments to the Independent Electoral Commission are generating lots of controversy. Some political observers have questioned not only the timing of the appointments, but also the refusal of the incumbent president to consult the opposition on the appointments, which form part of an accord signed in 1997.

Opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who represents the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), claims the president’s appointments are aimed at rigging the December 7 elections. But the government dismisses the allegation, saying it has no plans to tamper with electoral commission duties.

Meanwhile, Odinga stayed ahead of incumbent Kibaki in three new opinion polls published Sunday with less than two months to go before the election in east Africa's largest economy.

Kenyan political analyst Joseph Maggoot tells reporter Peter Clottey Odinga’s claim is not too far-fetched.

“The electoral commission in this country to some extent has been elected. First, it’s a body constituted of tired, retired, lethargic individuals who really cannot live up to the billing of conducting free and fair elections. I think it is also a pity that President Kibaki decided to deliberately and consciously disregard the accord of 1997, of which he was the architect, being a member of the opposition then. That any appointment that has to be done with regard to the electoral commissioners must be through the consultation with opposition parties. But he decided to disregard that and unilaterally appointed commissioners, which then raised fears as to his honesty in having free and fair elections,” Maggoot said.

He said Kenyans are not overly confident of free and fair elections.

“I can tell you this for certain, that the chairman has always tried to exude some sounds of confidence and given Kenyans some confidence that he expects to steer free and fair elections. But you see, with the entry of new commissioners that are not nominated through consultations with the opposition, he has created fear. He does not therefore command an army or a team that would be working as a corporate and reading from the same script. The chairman of the electoral body the other day admitted that the new commissioners may not really take instructions from him. And so this tells you that they would singing different hymns,” he noted.

Maggoot said the timing of the president’s appointment has come under heavy criticism.

"The new appointment came as a result of the expiration of the tenures of the terms of the electoral commissioners that have just left office. But there is a general feeling that the current chairman should not be removed from office because his term is going to be coming to an end early December. And remember, that would be a few weeks before the general elections,” he said.