Clock Ticking for Kenya as Squabbling Overshadows Election Rerun

By Michael Cohen and Felix Njini

Kenya August election

Kenya is running out of time to ensure a credible rerun of presidential elections that were annulled by the nation’s top court after the main opposition party alleged that they were rigged.

With the next vote due in just five weeks, the electoral commission is mired in infighting over who should take the fall for last month’s botched contest. Demands by ex-Prime Minister Raila Odinga, 72 and his National Super Alliance that sweeping changes be made to the commission, including the removal of its chief executive officer, have also placed them at loggerheads with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Party.

“As things stand now, most of the people that ran the Aug. 8 elections are still in office and the system that they used has not been changed,” Peter Wayande, a politics professor at the University of Nairobi, said by phone from the capital. “As long as that remains the case, one cannot expect credible elections. If things are not done right, there will definitely be a crisis that will result in political instability.”

Controversy has marred most elections in Kenya since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1991, and peaked after a disputed 2007 vote triggered two months of violence that left at least 1,100 people dead. Clashes that ensued after last month’s results announcement claimed 24 lives, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and another disputed result would elevate the risk of further violence and disruption to East Africa’s biggest economy.

‘Failed’ Election

The prospect of protracted turmoil has weighed on financial markets, with the yield on the nation’s foreign debt climbing 15 basis points since the election was annulled and the FTSE NSE Kenya 25 Index of stocks dropping 3.2 percent. Kenya hosts the regional headquarters of companies including Google Inc. and General Electric Co. and several United Nations agencies, and is the world’s largest shipper of black tea.

The opposition alleged that computer systems were tampered with and vote tallies were altered to ensure the re-election of Kenyatta, 55, last month. On Sept. 1 the Supreme Court ruled that the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” It’s yet to release its detailed findings.

Wafula Chebukati, the commission’s chairman, said the body was committed to holding a lawful vote and replaced six of its top managers, including the heads of operations, information technology and the national tallying center. The managers who mishandled the previous election refused to resign, according to IEBC Commissioner Roselyn Akombe.

Internal Divisions

On Sept. 5, Chebukati wrote to Ezra Chiloba, the commission’s CEO, asking him why a computer username had been created in his name without his consent, and to explain the failure of the election-results transmission system and other hitches during the initial vote. Four commissioners said in a statement on Sept. 7 that the electoral body hadn’t sanctioned the letter and most of the issues raised by the chairman “are not factual.”

Odinga’s alliance, known as Nasa, said it would be untenable to stage the rerun on Oct. 17 if the apparent conflict within the electoral commission isn’t resolved.

“It shows the commission is unable to carry out its constitutional functions without regard to political interests or causes that undermine its authority and mandate,” Musalia Mudavadi, a top Nasa official, said in a letter to Chebukati. “The problem is systematic and grave and it has thrown the electoral process into a cesspool.”

Tushar Kanti Saha, a law professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, said the divisions within the commission and unresolved logistical and information-technology challenges have cast doubt over whether the election rerun will take place.

“If it is held, then the question of credibility will still arise,” he said. “I am not sure what direction it is going to take. It is very uncertain.”

— With assistance by Adelaide Changole


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