August 8 marks a significant date in Kenya’s political calendar with some 19.6 million registered voters expected to cast their votes in 40,833 polling stations across the country.
At the end of that day or a few days after, Kenyans will expect to know whether they have re-elected a president, or handed someone else the keys to the State House for the next five years – though recent opinion polls have dampened the possibility of an outright win in the first round.
As the anticipation mounts on whether incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta will be handed a second term or whether his main challenger Raila Odinga will finally win the race to State House, so will be the focus on some key individuals and institutions before, during and after the elections.
The national co-ordinator of the Elections Observation Group (Elog), Mr Mulle Musau, noted that there are key people and institutions with a heavy responsibility on elections.
“Kenyans expect smooth elections and that is only possible with the collaboration of various institutions and actions of certain personalities,” Mr Musau said.
Acts of commission or omission by key agencies, he added, could wipe out any confidence the public have on the outcome of the elections, and at worst, drive the country over the edge.
For political analyst Martin Oloo, the foremost important institution in these elections is the voter.
“Kenyans are looking at everyone else except themselves yet they are the voters, which is unfortunate.
"Will they let themselves down by not turning up to vote or allow their decisions to be determined by the tribal factor or remain peaceful after the elections?
"This makes the voter the focal point of these elections,” Mr Oloo said.
Besides the voter, Mr Oloo says the entire government should also be working towards the one goal of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
The opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) has been raising concerns about the Jubilee administration using state resources, including deploying the security agencies – the police, National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the military – to rig the elections in favour of Jubilee Party.
The latest of these allegations involves the claim by Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka that Jubilee was planning to use the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to rig the elections, claims the Cabinet Secretary for Defence Raychelle Omamo on Thursday termed “baseless and reckless”.
When the documents were initially released to the media by Mr Odinga, military spokesman Colonel Joseph Owuoth said they were authentic but a few days later Ms Omamo and Col Owuoth declared them fake.
Nasa has also accused the police of a sinister plot to help Jubilee by selecting 42 officers among them to be assigned “special duties”, which the opposition has interpreted to mean being deployed as temporary IEBC staff.
The police, while confirming the authenticity of the documents that Mr Odinga released, however, denied the Nasa claims with Kenya Police spokesman Charles Owino saying the officers on the list had been recruited by NIS.
While the accusations and counter-accusations and legal challenges, especially involving Jubilee and Nasa, have continued in the run-up to the elections, focus has firmly remained on a handful of individuals and institutions whose role in the elections is key.
Foremost among them, Mr Musau says, are the IEBC commissioners led by chairman Wafula Chebukati and secretariat staff under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba.
“At IEBC, the main person to watch is Mr Chebukati. The success or otherwise of these elections squarely rests on his shoulders as the chairman of the IEBC as well as the returning officer for the presidential elections,” Mr Musau says.
While Mr Chebukati will be the focal person, his officers including six commissioners – Vice-Chairperson Consolata Bucha Maina, Dr Roselyn Akombe, Prof Abdi Yakub Guliye, Ms Margaret Wanjala, Dr Paul Kibiwott Kurgat and Mr Boya Molu – and secretariat staff led by Mr Chiloba will also be at the center of attention.
Jubilee and Nasa have each previously accused Mr Chebukati of pandering to the demands of the other.
Such public statements have piled pressure on IEBC.
And following the Court of Appeal ruling in June that results announced by each of the 290 returning officers are final, and the recent announcement by IEBC that they will not be giving periodic results updates, the public’s focus will also be on all the 290 constituency returning officers.
But it’s not just IEBC alone as the conduct of the candidates, especially the two leading presidential candidates – Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga – too, matters a lot in these elections.
What they say or do before, during and after the elections has the potential to keep the country together or tear it apart for a repeat of the 2007/2008 post-election violence following a disputed presidential vote result.
“These leaders are holding the destiny of the country in their hands. How they act or speak matters to everyone whether or not you support either of them,” Mr Musau says.
The heads of the security agencies have also been in the crosshairs of the opposition during the campaign season with suspicion that they are part of an alleged Jubilee rigging plot.
Focus will be on Mr Joseph Boinnet (Inspector-General of Police), Gen Samson Mwathethe (Kenya Defence Forces chief), and Major-General Philip Wachira Kameru (National Intelligence Service Director-General) on the conduct of security agencies during voting and in the post-election period.
There will also be keen interest on acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho — who have also been accused of bias by the opposition.
Dr Matiang’i, during the campaigns, has been addressing Jubilee rallies and criticising the opposition while Mr Kibicho is seen as key in facilitating Jubilee meetings across the country.
While it may be the wish of many that the elections end after voting on August 8, the likelihood of aggrieved parties trooping to the courts remains.
That also places the judiciary as a point of focus in the elections, especially Kenya's Chief Justice David Maraga and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee on Elections, High Court Judge Msagha Mbogholi.
Mr Maraga has already gazetted the rules that will speed up the election petitions and on Thursday he launched a book on election disputes resolution, as the Judiciary prepares to handle up to 300 petitions from across the country, nearly twice as many as there were in 2013.
This is anticipated to include at least one presidential election petition.
In 2013, Mr Odinga unsuccessfully challenged the victory of Mr Kenyatta in the Supreme Court.
Also under focus will be the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) and the mobile and data service providers.
This is especially so because of the fears that have been expressed that CAK was planning to shut down the internet on Election Day despite Director-General Francis Wangusi denying this, but at the same time warning against misuse of social media.
The media, particularly the vernacular radio stations, will also be in focus.
They were blamed for fanning the 2007/2008 post-election violence.
In fact, a media personality, Mr Joshua Sang, was among those charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court following the violence.
On the flipside, the media was generally accused of merely preaching peace and failing to ask questions in 2013.
In fact, following the 2013 elections, British journalist and author Michela Wrong, in an article that appeared in the New York Times on March 14, 2013, accused the Kenyan media of “professional surrender” by self-censoring amidst the numerous anomalies with the results IEBC was announcing.
As Kenyans head to the polls on August 8, the media again has not escaped scrutiny in the manner that they report on political campaigns and actual elections.
Scrutiny will also be on mobile telecommunications service providers – Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom.
IEBC has contracted them to facilitate the results transmission from the polling stations, a task they cannot afford to underperform given the anxiety that characterises elections in Kenya.
Then there are the accredited local and foreign observers whose assessments before the elections and during voting – and crucially reports after the elections – are usually used to gauge how free, fair and credible the process is.