President Kenyatta’s dilemma: What it would cost to dissolve Parliament

President Kenyatta’s dilemma: What it would cost to dissolve Parliament

Should President Uhuru Kenyatta heed Chief Justice David Maraga’s advice to dissolve Parliament, what would it take for the electoral body IEBC to conduct mass by-elections in 290 constituencies and 47 counties?

While some of the legislators are entertaining the thought of returning to the ballot, it would cost billions of shillings for an electoral body that is ravaged by vacant offices having lost four commissioners with no substantive chief executive officer for nearly two years.

The 2017 General Election was the most expensive in the country’s history. In it’s post-election report, the National Treasury put the cost of the elections at Ksh.54.1 billion spent across two years; 2016 to 2017, to prepare and eventually conduct the election.

Out of this, Ksh.40.2 billion went into direct election expenditure, meaning into the recruitment and training of election officials, registration of voters, inspection of voters register, procurement of election materials and equipment. The direct expenditure also included packaging and distribution of election materials to the more that 40,000 polling stations. Clearance of candidates was also part of the election costs.

To conduct an election, indirect expenses take a significant portion of costs. The Ksh.13.9 billion went to among others allowances for security personnel, substance and communication allowances, security operation and fueling and maintaining vehicles.

For IEBC out of its allocated budget, Ksh.46.2 billion was spent for the General Election and the repeat presidential election of October 2017.

And as the country awaits the President to make a decision based on the advisory to dissolve parliament, some of the MPS are daring the system.

“I don’t mind going to the election, whether I am elected or not,” said Millie Odhiambo, MP, Suba North.

On his part, Belgut MP Nelson Koech said: “Niko tayari kuelekea uchaguzi, nawaomba wenzangu kufuata mkondo.”

But what would it take to conduct mass byelections: in 290 constituencies, 47 woman representative slots in the counties and 47 senatorial polls? A voter would be presented with three ballot papers different from a general election where six ballot papers are on offer.

While it cost Ksh.10 billion for the repeat presidential election in 2017, it was a single ballot paper circulated in all the 40,000 polling stations.

The Migori County Senatorial by-election in 2018 is estimated to have cost Ksh.230 million. If this cost were to be replicated in 47 other counties, then add the cost of printing ballot papers for the other two positions, recruit and deploy poll officials who must also be trained, the cost may rise significantly.

But IEBC faces another challenge. While the repeat presidential election relied on the then election devices after maintenance, it is not clear that the same election technology can be used for a nationwide exercise given that software licenses have expired.

The constitution provides that a by-election should be conducted within 90 days of occurrence of a vacancy. While some have argued that election would be held 60 days after dissolution, it would be an uphill task for a commission of the current IEBC stature to pull such an exercise.

The current commission has only three commissioners after four resigned between 2017 and 2018. The commission lacks a substantive CEO after Ezra Chiloba was shown the door in October 2018. Several senior officials have since left the commission at the head office, counties and constituencies with no replacement yet.

For the commission to conduct elections, they require a substantive budgetary allocation which has not been factored in, in the current financial year. For such money to be allocated, it would take Parliament to pass a supplementary budget. That parliament is the subject of a possible dissolution.

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