Fears of violence increase as Kenyans head to polls again
Tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of tomorrow’s re-vote. Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the August vote could not be validated due to irregularities. Questions continue to be raised about the competence of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s ability to run a free and fair election. A contested poll left more than 1000 Kenyans dead in 2007. Will this re-vote bring stability to Kenya?
The Kenyan Supreme Court has confirmed that the re-vote will take place tomorrow, despite protests and the resignation of one of the senior electoral commissioners, who cited reasons that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was not ready to hold free and fair election – the very reason for the second election.
Kenyan‘s August election were nullified by the Supreme Court citing irregularities. In a decision that surprised many observers, including the main opposition leader, Raila Odinga, and his supporters, four out of six justices agreed with opposition arguments that the electoral commission committed irregularities invalidating the vote. It also raised questions for international monitors, who had declared the election fair.
But a last minute application to have the elections postponed was not heard by the Supreme Court. A petition was filed by three Kenyan voters argued that officials could not ensure the polls would be free and fair. Today the chief justice told reporters that the court would not hear the matter and the elections would continue.
One such event included the death of a top election official, Christopher Chege Musando a week prior to the original August election. He had been in charge of voting technology. And although the casting of ballots went smoothly, the electronic transmission of vote tallies was flawed, leading the opposition to assert that as many as seven million votes had been stolen.
And last week Dr Roselyn Akombe quit her job as a commissioner at the IEBC, arguing that the “the commission, in its current state, can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October, 2017”. A second official has gone on leave.
Akombe claimed she shared detailed reports from staff in four counties most hit by the on-going protests – Nairobi, Siaya, Kisumu, and Homa Bay – with the hope that this would bring “sobriety to our decision-making”.
“Instead, this was met with more extremist responses from most commissioners, who are keen to have an election even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters.” Akombe said the commission was compromised, a statement in line with the Supreme Court’s declaration that the board, which was in charge of the vote, “failed, neglected, or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution”.
The six-judge Supreme Court found no misconduct on the part of the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, but it found that the commission “committed irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results” and unspecified other issues. “Irregularities affected the integrity of the poll,” Justice Maraga told a stunned courtroom.
For Akombe, the IEBC has been compromised and her involvement could not continue. Coupled with death threats, the former electoral commissioner fled to New York. While her actions are more concrete, her sentiments are not isolated. A few hours after her resignation, IEBC Chairman Watula Chebukati admitted that things at the board are not moving in the right direction amidst the preparation for the repeat of the presidential election on 26th October, 2017. He revealed that he had “made several attempts to make critical changes but [his] emotions has been defeated by the majority of the commissioners”. He adds that “under such conditions it is difficult to guarantee free, fair, and credible elections”. The IEBC chairman concluded by saying that “without critical changes in key secretariat staff, free, fair, and credible elections will sure be compromised”.
With the supreme court validating the election, Kenyans will now proceed to the polls without any assurance that the outcome could be anything different. Fears of violence have increased due to the daily protests around the country and the fact that there will be fewer international observers than in August after the European Union mission reduced its presence, citing “the extreme tension, disruptions of polling preparations, and strong criticism that has been made of the international community”.
Kenyans will head to the polls tomorrow with memories of the 2007 elections, where Odinga first claimed vote-rigging after a defeat, prompting ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. SA.
Vincent Nchimunya, reporting from Kenya.
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