NAIROBI – Kenya’s electoral commission on Sunday began a three-day emergency meeting to end an escalating civil war over who was to blame for the Supreme Court nullifying last month’s presidential election.
The dispute within the agency over responsibility for alleged illegalities and irregularities in the August 8 ballot threatens the integrity of the repeat election in east Africa’s dominant economy scheduled for October 17.
“If they don’t calm the tension, the political class will start discrediting the commission to say they’re not capable of running the election and we’ll end up in a political and constitutional crisis,” said Duncan Otieno, a political analyst.
The court voided the election result — the first such ruling in Africa — after challenger Raila Odinga appealed against incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, alleging widespread rigging, particularly in counting and tallying votes.
Commission officials have described the atmosphere within the agency as “toxic”.
Exacerbating the tension, it remains unclear who judges will blame for the faulty election until they publish their full judgment, which under the constitution they have until September 22 to do.
The crisis pits Wafula Chebukati, commission chairman, and his supporters against Ezra Chiloba, the chief executive, and his surrogates.
Last week Mr Chebukati appointed six people to oversee the repeat election, in effect bypassing Mr Chiloba and his deputy. This prompted a backlash from Mr Chiloba’s commission supporters and both presidential challengers, who said they had reservations about the team’s neutrality.
Then on Thursday a three-page memo from Mr Chebukati to Mr Chiloba demanding answers to 12 concerns about the election was leaked to the media — the first time such issues had been raised in public.
Mr Chebukati’s concerns included the failure of the electronic results transmission from a quarter of the 40,883 polling stations; the use of unofficial results forms; and the use almost 10,000 times of an unauthorised account in the chairman’s name to access the commission’s computer system.
Within hours, five of the six other commissioners issued a statement saying they had no knowledge of the memo, highlighting the depth of the divisions.
Opposition politicians said the memo validated their allegation that some commission staff manipulated the tallying system in favour of Mr Kenyatta, who was declared the winner by 1.4m votes, or nine percentage points.
However, the result was broadly corroborated by a parallel vote tally from a sample of almost 2,000 polling stations, by local independent election observers.
Diplomats fear the commission will struggle to organise a credible re-run by next month without everyone involved making compromises.
“Kenyans from across the political spectrum will need to work hand-in-hand and in good faith with the IEBC if it is to deliver a better election in October,” 12 western ambassadors said in a joint statement.
Kenya has a history of disputed elections. In 2013 Mr Odinga appealed in the Supreme Court against his narrower defeat to Mr Kenyatta, but this was rejected. In 2007, after a deeply flawed election, violence erupted that left 1,200 dead and forced 600,000 people to flee their homes.