Kenya election chief casts doubt on 'free, fair' poll

File: AFP
File: AFP

Nairobi - Kenya's polls chief cast doubt on Wednesday on his organisation's ability to hold a credible vote next week, pointing to internal divisions and interference by both major parties.

In the latest bombshell to hit the presidential election, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chief Wafula Chebukati lambasted political leaders and his staff just hours after another commissioner announced her resignation after fleeing to New York.

"Let me be very clear that this a yellow card to both sides. I will not tolerate the interference in the commission anymore," said Chebukati in a no-holds-barred statement in which he slammed the "arrogance and narcissism of our political class".

"Political leaders who are supposed to build the nation have become the greatest threat to the peace and stability of the nation."

Kenyans are due to go to the polls on October 26 for a second time, after the Supreme Court last month overturned the result of the initial election due to "irregularities" in the counting process, and mismanagement by poll officials.

The ruling was a rare victory for veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claimed the poll was rigged in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta, and seen as a sign of Kenya's mature democracy and institutions.

However the decision has been followed by acrimony, legal battles and confusion over how to carry out a credible new election in the constitutionally mandated 60-day period.

Odinga last week announced he was withdrawing from the race, arguing the move would legally force the IEBC to begin the whole process from scratch, which would allow more time for deep reforms.

However the commission has pushed foreward with plans to hold the election.

 Election 'mockery' 

In a statement announcing her resignation as one of seven IEBC commissioners, Roselyn Akombe said that the panel could not provide a credible election.

"I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity," she wrote.

In an interview with the BBC, Akombe said she feared for her life and would not return to her home country in the foreseeable future.

"She is one of our finest brains and it is very sad," said Chebukati of her resignation.

Chebukati said that operationally, IEBC was ready to hold the election, but politically the environment left a lot to be desired.

"We are faced with a dilemma as a country, one between the status of operational preparedness and the political environment for credible elections," he said.

The Supreme Court had accused the IEBC of bungling the electronic results and basing the outcome on dubious documents that could not be verified.

 Free, fair poll 'compromised' 

Chebukati outlined steps taken to ensure all tallying forms were standardised, that network coverage to allow transmission of results was improved and that poll officials were better trained.

However he questioned how credible the election would be if Odinga did not take part, raising examples of polls boycotted in Zimbabwe and Burundi, leading to long-term legitimacy issues and economical crises.

"I've made several attempts to make critical changes but all my motions have been defeated by a majority of the commissioners," he told journalists.

He said that without changes to key secretariat staff - the permanent members of the IEBC - a "free, fair and credible election will surely be compromised."

He called on these members to "step aside to allow this team to function without interference."

Kenya's IEBC has a controversial history. A discredited body that presided over a deeply flawed 2007 poll - which triggered violence that killed over 1 100 people - was replaced by commissioners which were forced to resign last year after violent opposition protests.

The body that had overseen elections in 2013 had been accused of bias, mismanagement and was dogged by corruption allegations.

Chebukati appealed to Odinga and Kenyatta, embroiled in a dynastic political feud that started when their fathers fell out after independence, to hold talks to help reduce tensions.

He said he would invite the two men to a meeting presided over by him "so they can talk".

"Once the Kenyan people see that their leaders are talking and are putting Kenya first, then we can douse the tension in the air."

 Election 'at any cost' 

In her statement Akombe said field staff had in recent days expressed concerns about their safety, especially in areas hit by opposition protests against the IEBC.

In the western opposition stronghold Kisumu, rowdy youths on Wednesday disrupted a training session for polling officials, pulling down tents and chasing away trainees, chanting "no reforms, no elections" as they stoned their vehicles.

Akombe accused her colleagues of seeking "to have an election even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters."

Odinga on Tuesday suspended a protest campaign to push for reforms after three people were shot dead in demonstrations. He has said he will announce his next course of action on Friday.

Some 40 people have now died since the election, mostly at the hands of police according to rights groups.

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