Photographer: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Kenyan Opposition Challenges Ballot Deal as Election Looms

  • Alliance seeks to overturn deal to print papers for election
  • President accuses opposition of wanting to delay August vote

Kenya’s main opposition coalition lodged a High Court challenge seeking to overturn a decision by the electoral body to award a ballot-paper printing contract to a Dubai-based company.

High Court Judge Justice Odunga on Friday directed the National Super Alliance’s lawyers to argue their case next week before three judges “who will make a determination,” Kathleen Openda, the opposition group’s spokeswoman, said in a text message.

While the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission has warned that challenging the contract in court might result in the postponement of the Aug. 8 vote, the country’s chief justice has said there won’t be a delay.

The credibility of Kenya’s past two elections has been questioned, and a dispute over the outcome of a vote in December 2007 triggered two months of ethnic violence left at least 1,100 people dead. The opposition held protests last year that forced the electoral commission to restructure its board and obtained this year a court’s permission to tally ballots in a bid to counter any vote rigging.

Opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga has said awarding the deal to Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing Ltd. may compromise the credibility of the August’s election because the company has had contact with senior members of the ruling Jubilee Party for at least three years and has links to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family. Kenyatta’s office denied the allegations. Al Ghurair denied any links to the president’s family, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said.

The IEBC awarded the contract to Al Ghurair even after the court ruled in February that a previous award to the company failed to comply with electoral laws. IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said Wednesday that the printing of 120 million ballot papers for the vote would start June 23.

‘Not Qualified’

The opposition considers Al Ghurair to be “a non-impartial contractor having deep-seated relationships with persons who are actively involved in a partisan manner in the electoral process,” Openda said in the statement. The case was filed by NASA’s lawyer, Jackson Awele.

The opposition wants to “sabotage the elections” and should present any evidence it has of links between Al Ghurair and the presidency to court, Kenyatta’s spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, said by phone on Friday.

“There is no link to the presidency,” he said.

The IEBC faces “insurmountable pressure” to organize the vote and its decision to re-award the contract to Al Ghurair may cost it the public’s confidence, according to Ahmed Salim, an analyst with Dubai-based Teneo Strategy.

“What is still peculiar is the IEBC’s decision to go ahead with Al Ghurair despite all the controversy surrounding the process as well as suspicions expressed by the opposition,” Salim said in an emailed response to questions. “Moving ahead with Al Ghurair via single-sourcing does not instill confidence in the IEBC.”

The judiciary will handle court cases related to the election quickly so it isn’t delayed, Chief Justice David Maraga said in an emailed statement.

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