Kenya election: From ′fair and peaceful′ to democratic crisis | Africa | DW | 25.10.2017
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Kenya election: From 'fair and peaceful' to democratic crisis

The East African nation has entered uncharted territory after the Supreme Court annulled the last presidential election. Questions abound about whether this vote will be any better. DW examines the situation.

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Tensions rise over controversial Kenya election

On August 8, Kenyans went to the polls to choose a president. Eight candidates were in the running, but it was ostensibly a two-man race between the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party of Kenya, and the main opposition leader, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance coalition.

Read more: 'My withdrawal not to blame for confusion,' Odinga tells DW

Three days after the vote, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Kenyatta the winner by a margin of 1.4 million votes — 54 percent to Odinga's 45 percent.

Turnout was put at just under 79 percent in an election that the commission described as "credible, fair and peaceful."

However, even before the votes were counted, Odinga cried foul and his supporters took to the streets to protest. At least two dozen people have been killed in post-election violence, stirring memories of mayhem that erupted after the 2007 election, when more than 1,000 people were killed.

Discrepancies

Odinga was not the only candidate to criticize the IEBC and question the vote tallies. Former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi also leveled accusations of electoral fraud.

Read more: Kenya: Uncertainty over election fuels fears of violence

Mudavadi claimed to have gathered "complete data" from the IEBC showing "the actual presidential election results contained in their database," and concluded that there had been a "serious attempt to try and either doctor or alter the final results." He said Odinga had won the election by almost 300,000 votes — a claim flatly rejected by the IEBC.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission also criticized election officials and pointed to several apparent irregularities at polling stations, calling the counting "opaque and the official numbers "not based on any verifiable results."

Election ballots at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport upon their arrival from Dubai

A man inspects ballots at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport upon their arrival from Dubai

'Null and void'

On September 1, Kenya's Supreme Court annulled the election results, citing "irregularities and illegalities" on the part of the IEBC.

A 4-2 majority ruled that the election "was not conducted in accordance to the constitution and applicable law, rendering the results invalid, null and void," Judge David Maraga said.

Read more: Opinion: Kenya's annulled elections are a victory for democracy

The court ruled that the IEBC had "failed, neglected or refused to conduct the elections in accordance with the constitution," and ordered new elections to be held within 60 days. The two dissenting judges argued that the will of the people should not be nullified.

Susan Muriungi, of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung think tank in Nairobi, told DW that the opposition had raised the possibility that the IEBC's computer system was hacked. She highlighted other problems, as well.

"Some voting forms that were used at a basic level did not have watermarks, some were invalid and even taken off an exercise book," she said.

'A judicial coup'?

President Kenyatta initially appeared to accept the ruling. "The court has made its decision," he said in a televised speech. "We respect it. We don't agree with it." 

"That is the nature of democracy," he added.

But, in an off-the-cuff comment later in the day, Kenyatta slammed Maraga and the three other judges who voted to annul the election, calling them "crooks."

Back on the campaign trail a week later, Kenyatta stepped up his attacks on the court.

"What happened is a judicial coup," Kenyatta said. "In a democratic and free nation, where citizens' rights are to be respected, we are now being told their will doesn't matter."

On October 10, Odinga announced that he would withdraw from the election. He had previously submitted a list of reforms that he said would need to be implemented in order to ensure free and fair elections. Those reforms have not been implemented.

Odinga also cited the failure to hold IEBC members personally accountable for the botched election back in August. But it appears that his name will appear on the election ballots. Though Odinga verbally announced his withdrawal from the race, officials say he failed to file the proper paper work to formally withdraw.

Odinga addresses thousands of supporters at a rally in Mombasa.

He says he withdrew, but Odinga's rallies draw thousands of supporters in Mombasa

Another election questioned

On October 18, just eight days before the revote, commissioner Rosalyn Akombe resigned from the IEBC and fled the country, fearing for her life.

"The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017," Akombe, one of the body's eight members, said in a statement when she arrived to New York.

"The commission has become a party to the current crisis," Akombe said. "The commission is under siege." She called on colleagues to follow her lead and urged "the commission to be courageous and speak out — that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a credible election."

Roselyn Akombe

Akombe said free and fair elections weren't possible

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