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Kenya election commissioner quits ahead of repeat presidential vote

Roselyn Akombe has stepped down from the commission responsible for safeguarding democratic elections. Kenya is readying for a second presidential election amid street protests and claims it will not be fair.

Kenyan electoral official Roselyn Akombe announced her resignation on Wednesday, barely one week before Kenya is scheduled to host a new presidential election that has drawn critical accusations of political bias.

Read more: Kenya's election debacle

Akombe, one of eight commissioners, released a statement from her location in New York. 

"The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017. I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity," Akombe said, referring to the date of the upcoming vote. The official added that others on the panel needed to voice their opposition, as well.

In her Wednesday statement, Akombe also said that staffers for the upcoming election were receiving last-minute orders relating to technology changes and the electronic transmission of results.

"The commission has become a party to the current crisis. The commission is under siege," she said, also saying that it was necessary for "the commission to be courageous and speak out that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a credible election." 

In an interview with the British broadcaster BBC, Akombe said she had fled to New York because she feared for her life in Kenya.

What's next?

According to Muli Musau, national coordinator of Kenya’s electoral observation group, says the current tensions in the country are not conducive to holding fair elections. "The electoral commission should go and seek a direction from the Supreme Court again. They need to petition the court, to ask whether they can be able to defer that date to a date which is more favorable," he said.

Although surprised by Akombe's resignation, Musau said he agreed with her. "Having elections at such a time, when the country is polarized, when there is no time to put everything in order, where there’s no transparency in most of the processes because of the effects to such an environment...You will not be able to have credible elections in that environment."

A warning from the electoral commission

Akombe stepped down from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the independent regulatory body tasked with supervising elections. In the aftermath of her announcement, the IEBC said they regretted her departure.

IEBC head Wafula Chebukati said later on Wednesday at a press conference in Nairobi that it would "difficult" to guarantee that the October 26 election would be free and fair. He invited political leaders to meet with the commission ahead of the vote, but called on political interference to end and said that he would not tolerate threats to staff. 

"I am giving a yellow card to all the political leaders in the country. As the referee I want to issue a stern warning to the players of this game on all sides that they should stop all attempts to interfere with the process," Chebukati said.

The IEBC has been beset by internal infighting between members that has often mirrored the demands of the different presidential candidates.

Second time around

Next week's presidential vote was scheduled after the Supreme Court in Nairobi nullified the outcome of a previous election on August 8, citing procedural irregularities, and ordered the IEBC to organize a new vote.

Uhuru Kenyatta (Getty Images/AFP/T. Karumba)

Kenyatta called the nullification of his victory a 'judicial coup'

Sitting President Uhuru Kenyatta had won the August vote, earning some 54 percent of the ballots cast. However, in the aftermath opposition leader Raila Odinga successfully petitioned the court to cast out the result, alleging that the electoral commissions' computers had been hacked.

Read more: 'My withdrawal not to blame for confusion' Odinga tells DW in exclusive interview

Since Odinga's appeal succeeded, however, international monitors have urged Kenya not to attempt wholesale change of electoral law with such a short time between votes, arguing that this heightens the chances of another flawed ballot. Akombe's statement explicitly urged for the postponement of the October 26 repeat election.

Protests from both sides

The East African country, which witnessed severe violence after 2007's contested election, has been in political turmoil since the August vote. Protests have taken place, with both Kenyatta's supporters and Odinga's backers taking to the streets.

"The lessons from 2007/08 are too fresh, lest we forget," Akombe concluded on Wednesday.

Supporters of Odinga run from tear gas fired by police (Reuters/T. Mukoya)

Supporters of Odinga run from tear gas that police fired during a street protest last week

On Tuesday, Odinga called off daily protests that were intended to demand reforms to Kenya's electoral system, claiming that he feared fatal police retaliation.

Odinga has taken his name off the ballot in the upcoming new elections. He alleges that the commission has failed to institute necessary reforms to ensure a transparent and legal outcome.

Kenyatta has been in power since 2013. The new election was originally scheduled for October 17 but was delayed due to the time needed for a French company to supply the necessary voting technology. 

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cmb/msh (AP, AFP)

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