Why rigging claims continue to haunt Kenya’s elections

Sunday August 13 2017

Some of the damaged ballot boxes at Burieruri High School in Igembe Central on August 9, 2017. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenyans vote during the August 8 General Election. PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA | AFP 

By OSCAR OBONYO
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The famous quote, “those who cast the vote decide nothing but those who count the vote decide everything,” by Russian strongman Joseph Stalin seems to mirror Kenya’s elections that have, over the years, been dogged by rigging claims.

This year, like in previous instances, the main allegation by the opposition Nasa was manipulation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) electronic results transmission system.

Other claims revolved around “dead voters,” ballot stuffing and manual alteration of poll figures.

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga, summed it thus: “The fraud Jubilee has perpetuated on Kenyans surpasses any level of voter theft in our country’s history.

This time we caught them,” he claimed on Thursday. 

Thirdway Alliance Presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot  also weighed in earlier in the week: “The integrity of this democratic exercise and not the declaration of a winner and losers is what is most important. And we need to invest in credible elections to ensure Kenya remains peaceful.”

OPPOSITION

IEBC has, however, dismissed claims by the opposition that its systems were hacked. Former Presidents, Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), John Mahama (Ghana) and US presidential candidate in 2001, John Kerry, led election observer teams in crediting the electoral commission for “a job well done” on voting day.

Nasa has since criticised the observer teams of “rushing to endorse a fraudulent exercise.”

Article 81 of the Constitution demands that elections be fair, free and credible, and must be administered in an efficient, transparent, impartial and accountable manner.

Human rights lawyer, Harun Ndubi argues that the management of elections reflects none of these definitions.

“IEBC seems to have found a mechanism to subvert the law to go around the decision of the Court of Appeal declaring that results realised at polling stations are final. By rushing to release numbers that are not supported by evidence in form 34A, they have demonstrated the thirst by IEBC and the incumbency to subvert the constitution and the people’s will,” Mr Ndubi told the Nation, adding that there appeared to have been a scheme to display the unverified data.

But the head of the European Union’s (EU) election observer mission in Kenya, Marietje Schaake, pointed out on Thursday that her team had seen no signs of “centralised or localised manipulation” of the voting process.

FLOUTING LAW

This position is shared by IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, who defended the commission against claims of flouting the law by directly releasing poll figures from polling stations before adding and verifying them at constituency level.    

While appreciating Kenya’s electoral reforms, the EU official observed that Kenyans had placed a lot of hope in the electronic systems without investing in the all-important virtue of trust.

Electronic devices alone, she observed, cannot effectively address Kenya’s electoral shortcomings.

Since independence, the electoral process has progressively been reformed with the view of making it transparent, just and credible.

But the more the process has evolved the more sophisticated alleged rigging has become.

The 2007 poll instance was the most discredited, leading to post-poll mayhem that claimed more than 1,000 lives.  

From the 1960s through to the 1980s when the government – a highly interested party – played the referee in General Election to today where the exercise is executed by an independent legal entity, Kenya has come a long way in reforming the electoral process.

TRANSPARENT

But the more the process has been made fair and transparent, the more politicians and their agents have come up with ingenious and sophisticated avenues of poll rigging.

At independence, for instance, election malpractices were characterised by simple, plain and less intelligent tricks executed mainly by use of force.

The instance of retired President Mwai Kibaki versus one Jael Mbogo, who kicked off her political career in 1958 in the pre-independence era as councillor of the then Native Eastlands ward in Nairobi’s Bahati estate, is one such prominent case.

Coming up in the 1969 contest against the then Finance and Economics minister in the President Jomo Kenyatta administration, Mbogo was viewed as the underdog in the Bahati constituency race.

However, she took a surprise lead during the vote-counting only for the Kibaki agents to switch off lights in the counting hall and execute the plot that absolutely changed the poll outcome.

Then each candidate was assigned a ballot box with his or her picture on it and Mbogo claims, in an earlier interview with this writer, that some of her ballot boxes were sneaked out of the counting hall and burnt.

Kibaki survived with an advantage of 111 votes and switched his base to his rural home in Othaya, Nyeri, thereafter. 

POLL RIGGING

The idea of assigning a ballot box for each candidate indeed facilitated easy poll rigging in the 1960s through to 1970s.

In most cases, candidates destroyed or tossed opponents’ ballot boxes out of the counting halls, with some literally fleeing with them upon sensing defeat.

Another archaic rule was that which stipulated midday of a given day as the deadline for aspirants to present nomination papers.

Dramatic, absurd and even laughable scenes were witnessed as some aspirants were hijacked, driven off and released shortly after the midday deadline.

There were also cases of hired goons snatching and fleeing with nomination papers of aspirants.

Local District Commissioners, who served as returning officers, were largely indifferent to such dirty manoeuvres.

The presidential candidate, ordinarily the incumbent, only survived similar mischief courtesy of state power and security.

NOMINATION PAPERS

During his tenure of office, retired President Daniel arap Moi routinely presented his nomination papers to the National Supervisor of Elections at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

And after excited murmurs from government officials and supporters, the supervisor would rise from his seat a few seconds to midday.

At exactly midday, the President would be declared the sole candidate and therefore duly elected unopposed.

Most of these archaic rules have since undergone gradual changes – thanks to the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) reforms in 1997, the proposed electoral reforms by South Africa’s retired Justice Johann Kriegler and a new Constitution that came into effect in 2010.  

Now Presidential term limits have been stipulated and a date of the elections set in the Constitution.

SECRET WEAPON

Under the Kenyatta senior and Moi administrations, the election date was regarded as the Executive’s “secret weapon” unleashed only when circumstances were favourable for them to win elections. 

And unlike before where a presidential winner was determined by a simple majority of the votes cast, now rules are fairer and stricter.

Besides winning a clear majority of over fifty per cent of the votes cast, a presidential winner must garner at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in half of the counties.  

The situation sounds fairer in other ballots as well, with same ballot boxes serving all candidates for various elective seats.

From the previous black colour, the boxes are literally transparent and the counting of votes has been cascaded down to the polling station, thereby reducing possibilities of mix up and rigging.