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In Kenya, a key role for foreign observers

International observers have been criticized for doing too little – and too much – in the wake of Kenya's flawed Dec. 27 vote, which touched off a wave of ethnic killings.

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That Kenya's elections were flawed, by now, has become common knowledge. Even the head of the Election Commission of Kenya admitted last week that he had been put under pressure by Kibaki's ruling party, the PNU.

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Now, reports are coming out that Odinga's ODM party manipulated counts in his own strongholds as well.

Observers also say that Kibaki's party waited until the pro-ODM vote was counted before adding sufficient votes to allow Kibaki to carry the day.

"In parliament, at least half of the seats went to Mr. Odinga's party, and 18 ministers of Kibaki's own government lost their seats, and yet we are told that Kibaki himself won the presidency," says one Western election observer, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to draw the conclusions we have drawn."

Kenyans shocked by vote rigging

Mohamed Datoo, an independent election observer and political scientist, says that the post-election violence is hardly surprising, given Kenya's very recent emergence from 24 years of dictatorship under President Daniel Arap Moi.

After so many years of fighting for the right to free and fair elections, it shocked Kenyans to the core to have this vote rendered meaningless by manipulation, he says.

"The Kenyan people take their power to vote extremely seriously," says Mr. Datoo, himself a Kenyan national, "and in my opinion, the Kenyan people have been disrespected by their leaders, irrespective of party affiliation."

Should the EU election observer mission have done more? Some election observers say yes, while others say that the EU may have done too much, fanning the flames of an ethnic fire that was already raging. To date, some 300 Kenyans have been killed, and 100,000 displaced since election day.

David Throup, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington who has led six election observer missions in Kenya in the past, says that the EU election mission has been "irresponsible" by releasing its preliminary report before receiving a final tally of the votes by the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK).

"They almost suggested that the election is rigged, using the evidence from just two constituencies," he says, after hearing the EU's preliminary report last week. "It's very dangerous, they have destroyed the legitimacy of the ECK," as well as raising questions of the legitimacy of Kibaki's win. "The ethnic violence is already too dangerous; to have these kinds of statements from the EU is very irresponsible."

But while election observers know they can't stop vote-rigging outright, observers who have studied the country and who have watched the process months in advance can make it harder to steal an election outright.

"What an election observer does is force people to rethink how they will rig an election," says Sebastian Elischer, an independent election observer and political scientist at Jacobs University in Germany.

"This crisis has been good for the country in one way," agrees Wafula Okumu, of the ISS. "There is no way it can be rigged like this again in this country. We have seen all the loopholes."