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Vol 54 No 13

Published 21st June 2013


The long, long vote count

The failure of the electoral commission to release the full results of all six elections is prompting more suspicion of foul play

Although Kenya’s Supreme Court and international observers formally accept the legitimacy of the presidential election, government officials and activists are raising fresh doubts about the number of valid votes cast in the polls on 4 March. For the sceptics, the most glaring flaw is the failure of the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission to release the full set of results for all six elections contested on that day. Critics say that the results do not add up and that the IEBC is desperate to reconcile or massage them before making them public.

Unless these basic issues can be resolved, they will undermine President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political authority and challenge the Supreme Court’s endorsement of the result within three weeks of its announcement. In the longer term, such doubts could prompt a re-evaluation of foreign election monitoring missions in Africa. Some on the European Union mission, for example, had serious doubts about the integrity of the process, but it quickly endorsed Kenyatta’s election. By that stage, the EU had contributed more than 50 million euros (US$66 mn.) to the cost of the elections, reckoned to total over $400 mn. One diplomat in Nairobi joked that it was a case of ‘responsibility without power’, meaning that the EU would be blamed for a messy result due to its financial involvement but had no power to change anything.

The IEBC found that a million more votes were cast in the presidential election than in any other, Africa Confidential has learned, although all were held on the same day. Opposition and civil society activists have raised questions about such discrepancies for several months. 

An unnamed electoral commissioner quoted in the Nairobi daily The Star appears to confirm their suspicions: ‘We are having sleepless nights reconciling the presidential results and those of the other positions. Over a million votes must be reconciled with the others and if the requirement is not changed, then it will cast the IEBC in a negative light.’

Kenyatta’s supporters reject the concerns, arguing that it is natural that voters were more worried about selecting the national president than candidates for other positions. Few neutrals see this as credible. In the past, dramatically higher turnouts in presidential elections than in others on the same day have been taken as a sign of ballot-box stuffing. 

It seems far-fetched that over a million Kenyans would queue for several hours to vote and then ignore all of the ballots apart from the presidential one, especially since there was great excitement about the contests for new, powerful positions such as senator and governor. None of the many election observers we asked said they had seen significant numbers of voters putting a ballot paper in the presidential box but not the others.

A smoking gun
There are pressing political reasons to resolve this discrepancy. The losing parties – particularly supporters of Kenyatta’s main rival candidate, Raila Odinga – would say that this was the ‘smoking gun’ that proved the election was rigged. That would further reinforce the sense of marginalisation among the Luo and Luhya peoples. Civil society activists, such as Maina Kiai and Gladwell Otieno who lodged a petition against the results, would step up efforts to prove the elections were fraudulent (AC Vol 50 No 7, A reform deadline for the rivals & Vol 54 No 6,  A very British coup). The public is wavering. A recent opinion poll by Infotrak found that only 56% of Kenyans believed the election was free and fair. That could fall much further if the IEBC fails to resolve the arithmetical and voting discrepancies.

The flaws may not be all on one side. Jared Okello, a petitioner at the High Court in Kisumu and a candidate for the Forum for Democracy-Kenya (Ford-Kenya), claimed that Odinga’s CORD benefited from the votes of dead and bedridden people. One of Okello’s witnesses, John Omollo, said the Presiding Officer at Kobura Primary School polling station campaigned for the local member of parliament, Fred Outa. Odinga and his party won over 90% of the vote in Kisumu in the presidential and parliamentary polls. Their critics say their political dominance allows them to twist the vote in the way that Kenyatta’s supporters can in their stronghold of Central Province.

With allegations of vote-rigging on both sides, the IEBC’s credibility is on the line. If large-scale discrepancies are discovered, its Chairman, Issack Hassan, would face heavy pressure to resign; domestic and international activists would call on the government to disband the Commission and investigate seriously the flaws in vote-counting and tallying. 

The impact would not stop there. Organisations that validated the result would also come under fresh scrutiny. The Supreme Court surprised many Kenyans when it unanimously rejected petitions against the results, despite evidence of irregularities. If the Court failed to spot 1,000,000 more votes being cast in the presidential election, its verdict  – and its motives – would once again be under the spotlight. International donors and election observers are also nervous. A massive discrepancy in the results would prompt questions about why they gave the elections a clean bill of health without seeing the full results.  

Failures all round
Many of the processes that Western governments have supported have failed to guarantee credible polls. Almost all the new technology introduced failed to work. If it turns out that the basic counting and tallying process was also flawed, activists and politicians in BritainCanadaGermany, Sweden and the United States will want to know what happened to their money. If governments review electoral support missions, the role of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems will come under scrutiny. IFES is a US-based organisation that donors often fund to supply technical assistance to electoral commissions. It provided ‘a range of technical assistance’ to the IEBC from 2011 onwards. Despite several unanswered questions about the elections, the Foundation invited Hassan to speak in Washington on 12 June. 

Although the meeting was billed as an opportunity to learn lessons, IFES is vulnerable to charges that it is painting the elections as more credible than they were, perhaps to justify its own role. The publicity for the meeting declared that the elections were ‘widely regarded as credible’ and ‘free and fair’.

The absence of a confirmed set of results and the willingness of the international community to carry on regardless send a message to political leaders and electoral commissioners: if you wait for long enough to air your dirty laundry, there is a good chance that when you do, critical outsiders will no longer be watching (AC Vol 54 No 10, Diplomatic diversions, and Vol 54 No 12, Bringing it all back home).


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