Dan Okoth: Are calls for elections a distraction from crisis?

I thought I was mistaken when I heard Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka speaking on Wednesday afternoon outside the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

After chairing a PNU/ODM-Kenya parliamentary group (PG) meeting on the grand coalition Cabinet crisis, he told journalists the alliance had resolved to support any action President Kibaki takes "even if he dissolves Parliament… and calls fresh elections".

Kalonzo’s remarks left a lot of questions. Was it a unanimous decision acceptable to, for example, Mr Kiema Kilonzo of ODM-Kenya and Prof George Saitoti of the Party of National Unity? Did he mean he had no objection to a General Election?

It was not the first time this year for a politician to bring up the option of fresh elections. About two weeks ago, Eldoret North MP William Ruto was more direct in calling for elections to resolve the impasse over the grand coalition Cabinet. Not many took Ruto seriously and the issue seemed to fade away — until this week.

The possibility of a rerun or fresh elections was on the cards when former UN Secretary-General Dr Kofi Annan arrived to chair mediation talks. Then it was rejected almost outright. The reasoning was that a quick return to fresh polls would polarise the country further. It was also noted that significant parts of the electorate were displaced, making the outcome uncertain in some areas.

But was the country burying its face in the sands of time, keeping off a General Election and the issues brought to the fore by violence? In other words, were Kenyans applying palliative measures to a disease bound to recur every five years? Would an election be the surgical solution?

Now that the possibility of an election is back on the national agenda, with riots in tow, it is time to ask whether anything will be done about historical injustices, the election itself and the institutions around it.

That leaders say they are committed to grand coalition talks rules out the possibility of fresh polls. Financially speaking, both sides are yet to recover from last year’s election, and may not be able to deal with the spectre of breaking apart.

One might still ask why Kalonzo would welcome the option of a fresh election. To suggest elections while enjoying the trappings of power — a motorcade, bodyguards, allowances, trips abroad, a press service — means Kalonzo is committed to seeking national peace.

The situation in the country is untenable and if it takes a General Election to resolve, so be it, he seemed to say.

It may also be a political gambit. For all practical purposes, Kalonzo is an outsider in Government.

Cabinet crisis

Although as Vice-President he chairs PG meetings and Government functions on behalf of Kibaki, he can only rise with Kibaki out of the top seat. By calling for an election, Kalonzo is calling PNU’s bluff on the Cabinet crisis.

He knows Kibaki may not run again (legal impediments on presidential terms and age). An election would confirm whether the presumed impediments are real. It will also confirm whether PNU would support a Kalonzo presidential bid, should it come to that.

On the face of it, an election may settle the question of who won the election, which observers say was "too flawed to be sure of its outcome". One of the commissions set up after the post-election chaos is yet to finish its work. Whether the findings will unearth anything useful, the fact remains that a winner-takes-it-all election will leave a chunk of Kenyans feeling left out. Of course, one can also argue that many felt that way before December 27 last year, and still do.

But in an argument that cuts both ways, another election may be PNU’s way of testing the shakiness of the ground ODM is standing. Despite the noise politicians are making, it is apparent that neither side is really keen on an election, at least not now.

There are two possible interpretations of Kalonzo’s remarks, which were jumped upon by ODM politicians at a press conference the following day. One is that the PG meeting indeed made a unanimous decision that a fresh election was the best way out of the Cabinet crisis and the larger national stalemate. Two, the remarks were off-the-cuff made on the spur of the moment to demonstrate how solidly the alliance was behind Kibaki, hence no need to debate them much further.

Given that it is an election that occasioned the chaos in the first place, it is difficult to find wisdom in conducting another. Internally displaced persons are in camps, the bereaved have not wiped their tears for loved ones killed in post-election violence, and more violence threatens the living.

Reforms first

Also, constitutional and party reforms are necessary to ensure any outcome is acceptable to all. Unless there is a compelling argument that fresh elections would end the cycle of violence, there is little support for the idea.

Besides, the same Electoral Commission team that takes the elephant’s share of blame for post-election chaos is intact. Even Kalonzo would not expect elections to be conducted under that team’s supervision.

Would he place his confidence in Samuel Kivuitu’s team to competently supervise upcoming by-elections in Emuhaya, Kamukunji, Embakasi, Ainamoi and a couple of others that might arise from petitions?

I doubt it.

The writer is The Standard Chief Sub-Editor

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