Tensions high over historic poll
Publish date: 07 August 2017
Issue Number: 737
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Candidates contesting tomorrow’s elections made their final push this weekend by holding massive rallies ahead of the close of campaigning. Legalbrief reports that the stakes are sky-high and the international community will be monitoring developments closely over the next few days. An estimated 180 000 police officers and members of the security forces are being deployed across the country while thousands of city dwellers are returning to their home towns over safety concerns. The fathers of President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga were allies in the struggle for Kenya's independence from British colonial rule, and then became adversaries. Now the political opponents are extending the family rivalry in a tightly contested election dogged by ethnic allegiances and personality politics. A report on the News24 site notes that the two men, who also faced off in a 2013 election marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging, are vying for power in an East African economic hub that plays a key role in the Western-backed fight against neighbouring Somalia's Islamic extremists. Kenyatta and his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto, called on supporters to turn out in large numbers on election day so his Jubilee Party could increase its winning margin from the 2013 elections. A second report on the News24 site notes that they slated Odinga, flagbearer for the opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (Nasa), for flagging the possibility of election-rigging. Distrust of the results by both sides in 2007, when Odinga lost out narrowly to Mwai Kibaki, was one of the issues that led to post-election violence. During his Nairobi rally, Odinga hit back at an alleged police raid – carried out on a Nasa tallying centre in the capital on Friday night – during which 20 computers were removed, as well as servers and mobile phones. The tallying centre was set up to prevent election rigging. Police have denied knowledge of the raid.
What happens to Kenya is less about who wins the elections and more about how those who lose take their defeat, notes a BBC News report. The success of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission's computerised voting system is key to the process being considered free and fair. If it fails – as it did in 2013 – the votes will be counted manually, and in a country where vote-rigging has been alleged in the past, the loser will no doubt challenge the result. In theory, the voting system is a good one but if the computer system goes down, verifying the voters' roll will be a lot harder, and may raise suspicions, the report states.
Last week's murder of Chris Msando, a high-ranking electoral official responsible for information technology, has heightened fears of violence. An autopsy revealed that Msando had been severely tortured and strangled to death. The chief government pathologist said he had deep scratches and cuts on his back and hands. BBC News notes that Msando was in charge of Kenya's computerised voting system for tomorrow's presidential elections. His body was discovered next to the corpse of a woman in a forest on the outskirts of Nairobi at the weekend. Government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe has dismissed earlier reports that three suspects had been arrested. The US and UK issued a joint statement expressing grave concern at the tragedy.
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