Kenyan Election Authority in Disarray a Week Before Repeat VoteBy
Key official resigns, flees country citing intimidation
Commission head wants staff removed to ensure credible vote
Preparations for Kenya’s presidential election rerun next week are in disarray after a top official of the commission organizing the vote resigned and fled the East African nation and its chairman said his efforts to ensure a credible ballot are being thwarted.
Roselyn Akombe quit the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission, citing issues including the intimidation of staff by “political actors” and protesters, and she accused unidentified senior personnel of serving partisan interests, according to a statement emailed from New York Wednesday. IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said in a briefing in Nairobi, the capital, that divisions in the commission are impeding his ability to make decisions.
“As things stand now, they are not able to conduct an election; if they go ahead it’s illegitimate,” said Ndung’u Wainaina, executive director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Nairobi. “If they want, the IEBC can invoke constitutional provisions and call off the election. Either call off or proceed, but they should be prepared to live with the consequences.”
Kenya is repeating its Aug. 8 presidential election after the Supreme Court last month overturned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, saying the vote wasn’t conducted in line with the constitution and the IEBC’s systems were “infiltrated and compromised.” Opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrew from the rerun on Oct. 10, saying the commission failed to agree to reforms including changes to its staff and systems to ensure a credible vote.
“The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on Oct. 26,” Akombe said. “I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity.”
Election controversies have become routine in Kenya, a regional hub for companies including General Electric Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., since it became a multiparty democracy in 1991. The most catastrophic followed a disputed vote in December 2007 that deteriorated into clashes across the country, claiming at least 1,100 lives.
The Nairobi Securities Exchange All-Share Index declined for a second day, shedding 1.1 percent to a three-month low by the close of trade on Wednesday. The shilling weakened less than 0.1 percent to 103.25 against the dollar, the lowest level since Aug. 17.
Chebukati said he’s made “several attempts” to institute changes at the commission, but his proposals have been defeated by a majority of commissioners. A senior official at the authority said last month the seven-member commission was split over issues including the removal of staff suspected of being complicit in the annulled August vote.
For the vote to be credible, Chebukati said the electoral authority needs to be allowed to work independently and its commissioners must pledge to serve the nation rather than partisan political interests.
“Only then can I commit to serve as the national presiding officer in order to deliver a free, fair and credible election,” he said.
Akombe’s resignation vindicated Odinga’s decision to withdraw from the race, Paul Mwangi, a legal adviser to the former prime minister, said by phone. The opposition alliance is pressing the commission to postpone the vote, he said.
“We expect the commission to conduct fresh nominations and start organizing new elections,” Mwangi said.
Chebukati invited the presidential candidates for talks to find a solution to the impasse. Kenyatta said in an emailed statement he wouldn’t negotiate with the opposition.
A series of election-related lawsuits have been filed before the Oct. 26 vote. Among them, former lawmaker Harun Mwau has petitioned the courts to seek an order compelling the IEBC to cancel the election and conduct fresh nominations of candidates. Various other petitioners are seeking court orders to force Odinga to participate, while another wants an order declaring Kenyatta’s stay in office unconstitutional after Nov. 5 if the ballot doesn’t take place.
“The commission is dysfunctional, there is no doubt about that,” said Peter Wanyande, a professor of political science at the University of Nairobi. “They may go ahead and purport to hold elections under these circumstances. It won’t be credible.”