Kenya’s electoral commission has stepped up its engagement with the presidential campaigns in the August 9 election, hoping to inspire confidence in its ability to conduct fair and credible election polls and avoid a repeat of past costly disputes.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which is carrying a battered image from three successive disputed presidential election outcomes, has organised a forum for presidential candidates on June 29 to, among others, address concerns about the integrity of the voter register.
Next week’s forum comes days after the IEBC invited representatives of the candidates to witness a simulation of its results transmission system.
An independent audit of the roll of voters by KPMG, whose findings were released last week, unearthed a number of anomalies, including double registrations, suspicious voter transfers in 10 counties and names of dead voters.
Deputy President William Ruto, one of the two front-runners in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, had in the run-up to the KPMG audit alleged that up to one million voters had been transferred from their polling stations of choice, especially in his perceived political strongholds in Rift Valley and Mt Kenya.
The KPMG audit, however, found that irregular voter transfers had also occurred in counties outside the two regions.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said three electoral commission officials may face prosecution over the transfers.
Suspicions over the integrity of the voter register, voter identification kits, procurement of election materials and results transmission have led to accusations of vote-rigging in recent elections and dampened public confidence in the electoral body.
Biometric kit failures
Civil society groups this week sued the IEBC over its decision to discontinue the use the manual register for voter identification in the next elections, arguing it may disenfranchise some voters in case of biometric kit failures.
The results of two of Kenya’s past three presidential elections have been challenged at the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court judges, in a landmark ruling, nullified the outcome of the presidential vote in 2017 over irregular vote tallying and results transmission, overturning President Kenyatta’s initial re-election victory.
President Kenyatta won the repeat election that was boycotted by opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The rerun pushed the government spending on that year’s elections to Ksh54.1 billion ($460 million) after the Treasury adjusted the budget by an extra Ksh15 billion ($127.5 million). The economic cost to the country from business disruptions related to disputed elections is, however, much higher.
In 2007 and 2008, Kenya experienced its worst election-related violence after Mr Odinga refused to concede defeat, alleging vote rigging in favour of then President Mwai Kibaki.
The ripple effects of the post-election violence were felt elsewhere in the region after protesters blocked roads and destroyed sections of the railway, disrupting transport of cargo to Uganda and Rwanda from the port of Mombasa.
Since then, Kenya has enjoyed political stability, with subsequent presidential electoral grievances having been arbitrated by the Supreme Court.
But a falling out between President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto and toxic rhetoric around the president’s “Handshake” cooperation with Mr Odinga have raised the political temperatures in parts of the country, prompting the country’s hate speech watchdog to flag them as violent hotspots.
However, with the veteran opposition leader going into this year’s election as the establishment candidate, it is Dr Ruto who has appeared to mostly play victim.
In addition to questioning the integrity of the voter register, he has taken issue with the involvement of Cabinet ministers in the Odinga campaign.