President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga have pledged to run peaceful campaigns in their battle for State House, 54 days to the high-stakes polls billed as Kenya’s most competitive.
While President Kenyatta addressed the nation from State House, Eldoret, promising to hand over the reins of power if he loses, Mr Odinga, on the other hand, signed a peace pledge during the ongoing National Elections Conference in Nairobi.
He opposed the award of the ballot printing tender to a Dubai firm and criticised Jubilee for failing to punish government officials who he said were openly abusing public office.
“We should exhibit the highest degree of maturity to navigate this country through peace before and after the elections. We should not squander what millions of Kenyans dream of,” said President Kenyatta from Eldoret State Lodge on Tuesday.
He pledged: “I am ready to stand aside for a peaceful transition if beaten. I did the same in 2002 by conceding defeat even before the announcement of the final tally. I had to wait for my turn for another 10 years and, here we are. I urge our competitors to also commit to accept the verdict of the people if beaten.”
President Kenyatta called on all contestants to be at the forefront of preaching peaceful co-existence.
“We should carry out peaceful campaigns. Elections will come and go but we will remain as a nation,” he said.
The Head of State raised concerns over what he said was constant criticism directed at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), especially by the Odinga-led National Super Alliance (Nasa).
He called for respect of independent constitutional bodies.
“We should not engage IEBC in endless political battles. IEBC should be blemish free and held in high esteem by the people. Those who will not be happy with the outcome of the polls have a constitutional right to appeal. Any attack on IEBC is an attack on the guardian of democracy,” President Kenyatta said. He was with his Deputy, Mr William Ruto.
He said the Jubilee Party was committed to ensuring peace during the electioneering period, adding that the party would soon sign a peace pledge.
“Kenyans are still suffering from the tragic consequences of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. We, as leaders, should desist from utterances which may create ethnic suspicions,” said Mr Kenyatta.
“Our democracy was hard won and should be protected. We should show the world that we can govern ourselves,” added the President.
A few minutes after the President’s speech was beamed live on television from Eldoret, Mr Odinga took the podium in Nairobi. He said the IEBC had made good strides, but accused it of turning a blind eye to Jubilee’s abuse of power.
At the heart of Mr Odinga’s beef with the IEBC, in his 1,283 word statement, was the Sh2.5 billion ballot printing tender that the commission single sourced to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair last week.
The opposition had opposed the award of the tender last year, with Mr Odinga saying the result declaration forms, as awarded, were not in conformity with the prescribed form of tabulated results of an election for the President from polling stations to the different tallying centres.
On Tuesday, he termed ill-advised and unfortunate the re-award of the tender to the Dubai firm, demanding its cancellation.
“There appears to have been a clear determination by the IEBC to award this tender to the Dubai-based firm no matter what,” Mr Odinga said.
He went on: “It is not too late for the IEBC to do the right thing for the sake of the country and we demand that IEBC does the right thing.”
He roped in the Jubilee leadership in the contracts, saying owners of the firm had contacts with Jubilee officials for at least three years.
“Owners of this firm hosted senior Jubilee officials in Dubai in February last year, when the ballot printing tender was discussed,” he said, adding that the firm’s officials later came to Kenya in October 2016 as part of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce where, he said, further discussions were made.
The former Prime Minister said while the commissioners had responded swiftly to concerns by the political class, there was room for improvement.
“That is not a good enough standard. It is a case of comparing the worst and the good. There is serious room for improvement, although time is quickly running out,” Mr Odinga told the IEBC at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.
The first fault he made of the IEBC was that the team had failed to punish public officers in President Kenyatta’s administration that he said were openly using State resources and power to push the Jubilee agenda.
“The IEBC has remained silent in the middle of all this. That is worrying indeed. It is not a way to build faith that the polls will be free, fair and credible and that all players will be subjected to the same treatment,” he said.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, who spoke before Mr Odinga, was however optimistic that the commission had ticked all the right boxes in the run-up to the polls, while calling for peace during the campaigns, on election day and after the polls.
“Do not let this election be a pretext that threatens communities that have always lived in peace. Let us protect women, children and the vulnerable from violence and threats of violence,” Mr Chebukati appealed to the leaders.
Mr Chebukati said that the commission will test its 45,000 voter identification and results transmission kits publicly.
“The commission has sought to ensure that it puts in place a more reliable electronic system for purposes of voter identification and results transmission.
This assurance shall be obtained through a series of tests that the commission shall carry out on the technology before the elections,” Mr Chebukati said.
Reported by Patrick Lang’at in Nairobi, and Wycliff Kipsang and Dennis Lubanga in Eldoret