Tensions rise in Kenya amid calls to halt election count

Men gather outside a hair salon in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, after listening to election results. photograph: pete muller/new york times

Men gather outside a hair salon in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, after listening to election results. photograph: pete muller/new york times

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 00:00

Kenya’s national electoral commission pressed ahead with tallying results despite calls for a halt to the count and accusations of rigging by supporters of one of the presidential frontrunners.

The campaign behind Raila Odinga, the prime minister, said it had evidence some results were being doctored and called on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to halt results being announced. Some observers drew parallels with a dispute over the 2007 election that triggered mass protests and ethnic violence, leaving 1,100 dead.

Computer overload

Candidates this time have pledged to seek redress through the courts. The IEBC abandoned a costly electronic transmission system on Wednesday after computers collating the results became overloaded. The commission then began the slow process of tallying votes manually.

“The national tallying process lacks integrity and has to be stopped and restarted using primary documents,” said a statement by Mr Odinga’s campaign. In a news conference in Nairobi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Odinga’s running mate, called on Kenyans to remain calm and said the coalition’s complaints did not constitute a call for mass action.

Some civil society groups also argued that the commission had violated the constitution by expelling party agents from counting rooms, and failed to secure their signatures on returns.

Responding to the allegations, Issack Hassan, chairman of the IEBC, said there was no room to doctor results and no polling stations had recorded more than 100 per cent turnout – another of the complaints from Mr Odinga’s campaign and some civil society groups.

“We cannot stop the tallying. This is a legal process,” Mr Hassan said, adding that the commission “wishes to assure Kenyans that, with a rigorous process in place, there’s no room to doctor any results whatsoever.”

Mr Odinga claimed he was robbed of victory in 2007. Then, following a lull in results being announced, his commanding lead was overtaken by a last-minute surge for Mwai Kibaki, outgoing president.

System failure

A later inquiry carried out by a retired South African judge, Johan Kriegler, said so many malpractices had occurred it was impossible to tell who had won the poll. He recommended a system overhaul and the safeguards – enshrined in law – that have now failed. A partial count last night showed that Uhuru Kenyatta had a lead that was just below 50 per cent, raising the chance of a run-off. Mr Kenyatta faces trial at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in marshalling death squads in 2008 post-election violence.

Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, secretary-general of Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, said all the systems intended to “immunise” the election against fraud had failed. He cited the widespread failure of biometric identification and the collapse of the electronic transmission system, saying the IEBC had neglected to respond to warnings before the vote. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)