from Africa in Transition

Scene Setter: Kenya's October 26 Presidential Elections

Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati (C), flanked by deputy chairman Connie Nkatha (L) and Commissioner Paul Kurgat, at a news conference at the Bomas of Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya October 25, 2017. Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

October 25, 2017

Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati (C), flanked by deputy chairman Connie Nkatha (L) and Commissioner Paul Kurgat, at a news conference at the Bomas of Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya October 25, 2017. Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
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Ballot papers printed in Dubai are arriving at Nairobi airport and being distributed around the country, albeit with some difficulty, indicating that the elections will go ahead. The ballot includes the two leading candidates, President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee party and Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), and six minor candidates. The second election is being held because the Kenyan Supreme Court invalidated the original August 8 election, allegedly won by Kenyatta decisively, because of irregularities, mostly committed by the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). 

Odinga and NASA insist that the IEBC facilitated the rigging of the August election in Kenyatta’s favor. He is saying that he and NASA will boycott the new election because the shortcomings of the first election have not been addressed by the IEBC. However, his name remains on the ballot, leaving open the possibility that at the last minute he will run. Uhuru Kenyatta is insisting that the elections proceed on October 26, as directed by the Supreme Court. Odinga is calling for their boycott, and is pledging demonstrations: “We will protest on Tuesday and Wednesday and on Thursday there will be no election.” Today, the day before the election, Odinga said, “we will not respect Uhuru, Ruto (the vice president), regional commissions, county commissioners and all that trash.” He went on to say that NASA is now a “resistance movement.” Nevertheless, his goal appears not to be armed resistance but rather to postpone the elections for ninety days so that they can be credible. In response, Kenyatta said, “We are warning anyone who will be tempted to block Kenyans from exercising their democratic right to vote will be dealt with according to the law.”

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The victorious presidential candidate must win 50 percent plus one of the vote and 25 percent of the vote in twenty-four of the country’s forty-seven counties. There are 19.6 million registered voters. As required by law, all campaigning ceased at midnight on the night of October 23, forty-eight hours before the date of the vote. 

Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of the IEBC, said that his agency is “technically” ready for the polling and that the shortcomings identified by the Supreme Court have been addressed. He went on to say, however, that his fellow commissioners are following their own partisan interests, and they are “derailing him.” Another commissioner, Roselyn Akombe has also said that the IEBC as presently constituted cannot conduct credible elections. She had recently resigned and left the country. The chief operating officer of the IEBC, Ezra Chiloba, a focus of NASA ire, has gone on leave for three weeks. As for the “technical” aspects of the polling, the French digital security company with the contract for transmitting the polling results states that because of the short preparation time, it will transmit only scanned copies of the vote forms, not the actual paper. Odinga is claiming that rigging the October 26 elections has already begun. He claims that Jubilee has locally printed and distributed ballots marked in Kenyatta’s favor.

Is there a way out? According to the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, there is. He publicly read a statement signed by twenty Western envoys (including the European Union) calling on both “big men” to allow credible elections to take place. Ambassador Godec went on to say that if the IEBC concluded that it was not ready for October 26, it should go to the courts for a delay. “We would be fine with that,” Godec said. 

Along those lines, Chebukati said today that local polling officials have the authority to postpone the balloting if there are problems with the delivery of voting materials or other practical concerns. There have already been numerous instances of physical interference and intimidation in the delivery of voting materials and other preparations for the vote.

The stage would appear to be set for a major confrontation, absent a last-minute deal between Kenyatta and Odinga, the outline of which remains obscure. Already there are numerous grounds to claim that the October 26 elections are not credible, no matter what the outcome. A violent confrontation between NASA demonstrators and the Kenyatta-controlled security services is a distinct possibility. Chebukati has said, “Fellow Kenyans, excessive use of force by the police is not illusion...When the very people that we are expected to run to in times of trouble are the ones attacking us, then as a country, we are at our lowest.” Friends of Kenya are haunted by the memories of the violence that followed the 2007 elections. The elephant in the living room remains the possibility of ethnic conflict. It is noteworthy that Odinga has acknowledged this, if sideways, by telling his supporters to "not castigate your neighbor based on their ethnicity. Look on them with compassion" because they will also suffer under Jubilee's "dictatorship."

More on:

Kenya

Elections and Voting

Sub-Saharan Africa

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