Leaders downplay tensions as Kenya awaits poll result

Kisumu residents follow transmission of results on radio/MIKE KARIUKI

Kisumu residents follow transmission of results on radio/MIKE KARIUKI

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 7 – Kenyan and international leaders are calling for calm as voters anxiously await the result of the March 4 presidential election, amid concerns that the protracted count is heightening tensions.

The counting of votes entered a third day on Thursday, March 7. The tally is now being carried out by hand after the electronic system crashed earlier in the week.

The largely peaceful voting process has given way to uncertainty as everyone waits nervously for the results. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, initially said it would release the results within 48 hours of the polls closing, but this has not proved possible because of the technical problems.

“We are anxious to know the results after voting,” Joshua Kiambi, a Nairobi taxi driver told IWPR. “This continued delay is not good because it leaves us worried, it is creating unnecessary panic.”

On March 7, Kalonzo Musyoka, the running mate of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, made allegations of ballot-rigging and called for the counting process to be halted.

Odinga is trailing his main rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, as the count continues.

“We have evidence that the results we have received have been doctored,” Musyoka, who is currently Kenya’s vice-president and represents the Coalition for Reform and Democracy, told a press conference in Nairobi. “We have noticed that in some cases, total votes cast exceed the actual number of registered voters,” he said, before adding that his words were “not a call for mass action.”

“We are committed as a coalition to the principle of the rule of law,” he added.

Musyoka did not provide any evidence to support his allegation, and it was denied by the chairman of the IEBC, Issack Hassan.

“The claims that there was more votes tallied than registered voters is not true,” Hassan told the media late on the afternoon of March 7. “Any dispute on the presidential result should be addressed to the commission.”

This presidential election is the first since December 2007, when a disputed ballot outcome led to bloodshed which left more than 1,100 people dead and 600,000 uprooted from their homes.

Kenyan politicians have been urged not to make statements about the integrity of the polls, for fear of fuelling similar tensions.

In some parts of the country, things are already close to boiling over. The Associated Press reported that on March 6, a riot by young people outside a polling station in the northern town of Garissa prompted police to open fire, killing one teenager.

The chairman of the East Africa Law Society, James Mwamu, urged politicians to refrain from making comments liable to “incite” people.

Speaking at a March 7 press conference to report his organisation’s observations on the ballot, Mwamu called on candidates to use the proper legal channels if they wished to challenge the results.

“We believe that anybody who has evidence of irregularities can keep them to be filed in court,” Mwamu said.

As the country awaits the results, schools across Kenya remain closed, although they had been expected to re-open on March 8. Classes will not now resume until March 11.

Delays to the IEBC’s schedule for releasing the results have left Nairobi largely deserted for most of the week. Few Kenyans ventured out to work and the lack of trade has forced shops to close as early as mid-morning.

“We cannot assume things are going on well, because I have not had business since morning,” Joshua Lumbwashi, a cobbler in the city’s central business district, said.

Most mid-level hotels have remained closed since election day, and the few which have decided to open do not have many guests. It is a similar story in Nairobi’s restaurants.

“It has been like this since morning. We have no customers; we will not place orders for tomorrow because we don’t know how it will go,” Francis Oketch, manager at a city restaurant, said. “They (IEBC) should just announce these results to enable us move on with life.”

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance, a corporate umbrella body, called on businesses to reopen and people to go back to work.

“Let us all join fellow-Kenyans who are already back to work. The business of baking the national cake must continue for the benefit of all Kenyans,” KEPSA’s chairman, Patrick Obath, said.

Obath warned Kenyans of the negative effects on the economy but noted that despite the delay, the IEBC was still within the legal time limit for releasing the results.

“Staying away from work can be costly to Kenyans. We are urging people to go back to work. The delay in releasing the results should not lead to closure of businesses at all,” Obath said.

IEBC chairman Hassan, has said that people will have to wait until at least Friday, March 8, for the results, but that it could take until Monday to finalise the tally.

“I would like to say that early Friday we should be able to conclude this exercise. However if there are any problems or delays, remember we can still go on to Monday,” he told a press conference in Nairobi on the evening of March 6.

Under Kenyan election law, the commission has up to seven days from the end of polling to declare the final results.

The IEBC blamed the breakdown of its electronic counting system on a lack of training for staff in how to use them. It had been using mobile phones specially designed to transmit results from tallying centres around the country to the national centre in Nairobi.

But Hassan said the glitch would not affect the validity of the final result.

“The fact that we have now abandoned the electronic transmission of votes does not in any way mean that the integrity of the results being released is compromised,” he said.

When the electronic system was abandoned on March 5 in favour of a manual count, Kenyatta of the Jubilee Alliance was leading with some 2.8 million votes or 53 per cent of those counted. His main rival, Odinga, had 2.2 million votes, 42 per cent of the count.

By the afternoon of March 7, Kenyatta was maintaining his lead over Odinga as the ballot-papers continued to be counted by hand.

As anxiety about a winner grows across Kenya, world leaders and international and local observer missions are urging people to be patient, and have lent their backing to the IEBC.

“We have a lot of confidence in the IEBC and what they are doing, and the fact that they have given information to Kenyans on what they have been doing including the challenges they have encountered in the tallying process,” Bishop Mark Kariuki of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya told IWPR. “Let Kenyans maintain calm and await the final results.”

The leader of the European Union’s observer mission, Alojz Peterle, issued a similar call to the Kenyan nation.

“Let Kenyans remain calm, give the commission time to release all the results,” he told a news briefing in Nairobi.

Peterle said his team had been impressed by the large numbers of people who turned out to exercise their democratic rights.

“Kenya can be credited with demonstrating a strong commitment to democratic elections,” he said.

The EU’s position was echoed by the Commonwealth Observer Group, which gave its endorsement to the polling process to date.

“Based on the process up to this point, the 2013 election represents a major effort on behalf of the IEBC and other institutions to conduct genuine elections,” the group’s leader and Botswana’s former president, Festus Mogae, said.

“We urge IEBC to ensure clarity and to complete the process in a transparent and timely manner.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Kenyans to be patient and refrain from statements likely to undermine the credibility of the IEBC.

“The candidates, political leaders and their supporters should maintain the same calm and patience to allow the electoral commission to complete its tallying of the votes, and to refrain from any pronouncements that could undermine its authority or cause tension,” he said. “A peaceful, credible conclusion to the election is within Kenya’s reach and would be a significant step for Kenyan democracy and stability.”

Bernard Momanyi is a reporter for ReportingKenya.net and News Editor at Capital FM in Nairobi.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with Capital FM.

BERNARD MOMANYI

BERNARD MOMANYI

Bernard is the News Editor at Capital FM. He commands over a decade of experience in news gathering having worked in both print and electronic media. He holds a BSc degree in Information Sciences from Moi University where he is currently enrolled for a Masters programme.

  • WillyGates

    What a balls up