Kenya's election plagued by vote-rigging allegations, despite efforts at transparency

Kenya is still awaiting the results of Monday's presidential election after electronic vote-counting machines malfunctioned, but a repeat of the 2007-08 post-election violence seems unlikely.

Ben Curtis/AP
An armed policeman stands guard, right, as unidentified Kenyans peer through the window of the media center to watch constituency results being announced live on a television inside, at the National Election Center in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday.

Four days after 10 million Kenyans cast their votes in a presidential election watched around the world, the country is still waiting for the final results, expected late tonight.

By Friday evening local Kenyan time, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta led the race with 51 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, incumbent Raila Odinga, had 42 percent, according to the Daily Nation in Nairobi. (The electoral commission says they still need to audit the results after the count is complete.)

That tips Mr. Kenyatta into the absolute majority, which, if the count holds up, would give him an outright victory and eliminate the need for a runoff next month. But even if Kenyatta manages that feat, the results will likely be challenged in court by Mr. Odinga, who alleged Thursday that there was vote-doctoring in the hand recount that began after an expensive electronic ballot-counting system failed Tuesday night.

As the Monitor reported Thursday: 

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr. Odinga’s running mate in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), issued the allegations, contending that the emerging vote tally from a recount that began Wednesday is not accurate. 

"We have evidence the results we're receiving are being doctored,” Mr. Musyoka told a news conference in Nairobi on Thursday. In several counties, he says, the number of votes cast appears to be higher than the number of registered voters.  

For many observers, the allegations were eerily familiar. Odinga was also a candidate in the last ­presidential election, in 2007, and his well-founded assertion then that the vote had been doctored helped touch off six terrifying weeks of violence across the country, eventually leaving more than 1,100 dead and 600,000 displaced.

To add another historical wrinkle to the current race, Kenyatta ­– the son of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta ­– currently faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for his own role in the 2007-08 violence.

This time around, Kenyatta is also claiming irregularities with the vote-counting process. On Wednesday, his Jubilee Coalition charged that the British High Commission had intervened in a “shadowy, suspicious manner” in the electoral process by pushing for several hundred thousand initially rejected ballots to be included in the recount. The Commission summarily denied the charge. 

In the run-up to the election, Kenya’s electoral commission rolled out an expensive new electronic vote tallying system meant to boost the transparency of the counting process and avoid the accusations of rigging that tipped the country into violence six years ago. 

As the Monitor reported Wednesday:

For this election, a new system was developed to transmit results electronically directly from each of the 33,400 polling stations countrywide to the national tally center in Nairobi. Local election officials were given mobile phones to transmit results using software designed to communicate only with a central server, which was supposed to upload all the results to one database that the public could see. 

But by late Tuesday, electoral officials had switched it off. 

Instead, returning officers from all 290 constituencies were ordered to hurry to Nairobi, the capital, physically carrying the forms that tallied the votes in their polling centers. These are now being collated at the national level. 

Even as the wait for results stretched on, however, the mood in the country remained mostly calm. Aside from a few scattered deaths reported on election day, the most noticeable change wrought by the election process was the emptying of many of the country’s normally bustling streets.

Schools closed last Thursday and will not reopen until March 11, and many bus and taxi drivers chose to stay off the streets in the days following the vote as a precaution – many vehicles were torched and destroyed in the 2007 violence.

On Twitter, Kenyans mixed calls for peace with jokes about foreign coverage of the election, which many felt leaned toward the sensationalist and simplistic. All week, the hashtag #tweetlikeaforeignjournalist trended as users took shots at the foreign correspondents who flooded into Nairobi in the days leading up to the vote.

“BREAKING: Foreign reporters clash in #Kenya amid growing scarcity of bad news,” wrote one user.

“Foreign Journalists stranded in their hotels as peace makes it hard for them to do their job,” tweeted another.

Don’t look for a story that isn’t there, the chorus of tweeters seemed to implore as the country waited on pins and needles for the final results Friday.

After all, for Kenya today, no news is good news. 

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