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Officers swapped to calm rigging fears

BOMACHOGE, Kenya, Aug 26 – All appeared set for the Bomachoge by-elections slated for Thursday, despite confusion and an arson attack witnessed at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) offices in Ogembo where ballot boxes used for the 2007 general elections were destroyed on Tuesday night.

Police and IIEC officials told Capital News that the incident would not affect the scheduled by-election and confirmed that all the ballot boxes and other election materials for use in the exercise were intact.

“We are all prepared. Everything is okay and therefore, there is no cause to worry. All the materials are well secured and in the right place. Those burnt were for the previous exercise,” IIEC Returning Officer for Bomachoge constituency Thomas Okila said when he received the materials at Tendere Secondary School, some 51 Kilometres from Kisii town.

Earlier, there was confusion at the constituency as over 400 Presiding Officers (PO) and clerks waited for several hours to be deployed.

Those interviewed by Capital News said they arrived at Tendere Secondary School as early as 6am local time and expected to be dispatched to their centres ready for the exercise but had to wait until 5pm.

“We have been here since morning. We do not know what is happening. No one has communicated to us since morning. There has been no word from the IIEC senior officials who told us to be here in the morning,” one of the Presiding Officers who declined to be named for fear of losing his job said.

Mr Okila however, explained that the confusion and delay was a result of the arson attack at the Ogembo IIEC District offices.

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“You see we have been meeting since morning to put in place special security arrangements to ensure this (arson) does not occur again. We have intensified security in all our polling stations and even at the tallying centre ahead of the main exercise tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Okila said following the arson attack, “the number of police officers in each polling station would be doubled to four.”

He told journalists that he had shuffled some 86 PO’s from Bomachoge to Shinyalu “to guard the elections against any form of manipulation and interference.”

“The POs who were meant to work here (Bomachoge) have been taken to Shinyalu and I am now having those from Shinyalu here. We want to ensure everything goes on well,” he said.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) MPs had complained that they feared the exercise could be manipulated because one of the contenders in the Thursday polls is a brother to a Commissioner at the IIEC.

“Even if one of the Commissioners is a brother to one of the aspirants, it does not mean that he will be favoured. That is not true, our officials are competent and we are going to conduct the exercise professionally,” Mr Okila said.

IIEC commissioners and other senior officials spent hours in closed-door meetings at their district headquarters on Wednesday to strategise on how to safeguard ballot boxes and other election materials which appeared targeted by arsonists.

“We do not know yet what exactly happened and who organised it. It appears to be something that was well planned because we are puzzled at how ballot boxes would be burnt at night yet there are police officers guarding the premises and the adjacent ones,” a senior official at the IIEC offices in Ogembo who requested to remain anonymous said.

When reached for comment, IIEC Coordinator for Gucha district James Moseti said materials to be used for Thursday’s by-election were not affected. “All that was burnt were materials that were used in the 2007 General Elections,” he said as he sought to assure the public that all was well.

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Nyanza Provincial Criminal Investigations chief Sebastian Ndaru and area deputy PPO Larry Kieng’ said investigations into the incident had been launched. “There is little we can say at this time because investigations are at preliminary stages. No suspect has been arrested but we are looking for them. We appeal to members of the public to volunteer information,” Mr Kieng’ said.

Mr Ndaru who led the probe team at the scene could not disclose much only saying: “We are interrogating a number of suspects. There are certainly good leads we are pursuing.”

One of the leading contenders Simon Ogari of ODM urged the police to expedite investigations.

“We want to know the truth, it is unusual what happened. The police should move fast and bring those involved to book. These are people who want to spoil the by-election,” he told Capital News.

Mr Ogari, Joel Onyancha of the Party of National Unity (PNU) and Ford People’s Albert Nyaundi are listed as top contenders in Thursday’s vote, according to voters and other residents interviewed.

Other candidates in the race include UDM’s Zephania Nyang’wara, Lugard Mogusu (Kaddu), Credius Oigara (Kenda) and Cyprian Nyamwamu of Safina Party.

IIEC said there are 54, 131 registered voters in their register who are expected to participate in the Thursday polls.

In 2007, there were 70, 349 registered voters in the constituency, indicating that the number has reduced by 23 per cent, according to IIEC statistics. The Bomachoge parliamentary seat fell vacant following the nullification of Mr Onyancha’s election after it was successfully contested in court.

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