Kenyan presidential election re-run must be done right

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

After being initially declared winner in the 8 August 2017 presidential election with 54 percent of the vote, Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent Kenyan president, had the surprise of his life when just barely a month after, the Supreme Court overturned his win and ordered fresh elections within 60 days. His challenger, opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader, Raila Odinga, had protested the election results, arguing the umpire was fraudulent in its computation of the tally. While the full court judgement is yet to be released, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has set 17 October as the date for the re-run, with only two candidates on the ballot: Mr Kenyatta of the ruling Jubilee party and Mr Odinga. Holding the new election that early is believed to have been informed by a desire not to disrupt the academic calendar of schools, whose premises are used as polling centres. The NASA candidate is unimpressed, prefering the new poll be held later.

Still, politicians have already started making re-alignments. Isaac Ruto, one of the NASA principals switched to the Jubilee camp in September, for instance. Peter Munya, a prominent county governor, also changed sides to NASA in the same month, where perhaps he believes his political fortunes might be rosier. Renewed campaigns have been characterized by vitriol, especially by the Jubilee candidate, who has spared no one he considers averse to his re-election bid. After initially acting statesman-like in the aftermath of the annulment of his election win, President Kenyatta has now adopted a no-holds barred strategy. Such is the extent of Mr Kenyatta’s angst, he recently called the country’s chief justice, David Maraga, a cheat on the campaign trail. Mr Odinga is not letting up either, announcing in September his determination to double down on his allegations of corruption, which he believes to be rife at the IEBC. Unless the candidates and their supporters desist from such acerbic rhetoric, the risk of unprecedented violence around the re-run poll is high. And to think only about a month ago, Kenyans demonstrated remarkable calm as they voted for candidates of their choice.

Disband IEBC leadership
Sharp divisions within the IEBC leadership have now come to light, with chairman Wafula Chebukati clearly at loggerheads with chief executive Ezra Chiloba. In saner climes, they would both have resigned by now. A leaked memo by Mr Chebukati to Mr Chiloba in early September vindicates the observations of the opposition and Supreme Court. For instance, Mr Chebukati wondered why a username was created in his name without his consent. IEBC vice-chairperson Consolata Nkatha and four other commissioners are livid at not being privy to the memo, only to find out about it in the press; evidence of disarray. Another allegation made by Mr Chebukati asks why expensive satellite phones procured to transmit results failed to work on election day. Ballot papers did not have security features, it turns out. Mr Chebukati also wonders why a “porous file server system” was used to transmit results. The real question begging for an answer, however, is why despite knowing about such irregularities, the chairman went ahead to announce the election results. There is no way Mr Chebukati can escape responsibility for the poll’s failings. In any case, Mr Chiloba has indicated he would have no qualms about resigning if the full Supreme Court judgement implicates him. Both of them are culpable.

Do it right this time
Mr Odinga has formalized his disapproval of a rushed re-run. He complains the umpire did not consult him or his party before announcing a new date. Mr Kenyatta asserts he was not consulted either, but would like the poll held as announced. Besides, argued Mr Kenyatta, there is no requirement in law that the IEBC must consult candidates before deciding on the new date. Even so, Mr Kenyatta is being a little disingenuous, as it is highly unlikely he was not familiar with the thinking of the IEBC ahead of the date announcement. After all, suggestions about the date emanated from a member of his cabinet. But would disrupting the academic calendar be too huge a price to ensure the new poll does not have any of the shortcomings of the earlier one? Definitely not: Mr Odinga is not being entirely unreasonable to think so, especially as the stakes are all too high. Quite frankly, all the needless controversy could have been easily avoided if the IEBC were more transparent in the first place.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

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