Raila Odinga is refusing to accept his likely loss in the 8 August presidential election, as he did in 1997, 2007 and 2013, because he claims the vote has been rigged against him.
While at the time of writing there seems to be less evidence that supports his assertions than in 2007 and 2013, the murder of the head of IT at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), and the IEBC’s decision to announce unofficial results, has created doubts in the mind of voters about the integrity of this election.
In a speech at Chatham House in 2016, Odinga emphasised that Kenya’s electoral body must be transparent in order to enable elections that are not only peaceful, but credible. At this crucial moment, he and his National Super Alliance (NASA) must also step up to this call for transparency: if they cannot swiftly substantiate their allegations that the election was hacked and ‘most’ of the official results already published by the IEBC are false, they should concede defeat and thereby contribute to strengthening Kenya’s democracy.
After the violence that followed the announcement of Mwai Kibaki’s victory in the flawed 2007 election, the establishment of elected county assemblies, and the introduction of identification, voting and results transmission technology were meant to take some of the heat out of the presidential election and make the balloting process tamper-proof.
However, in 2013, the failure of key features of this new technology led Odinga and his supporters to claim that, once again, an election had been stolen. The IEBC’s electronic voter identification kits did not work in more than half of all polling stations, and the mobile phone transmission system for results functioned so poorly that it had to be abandoned. Consequently, in the run-up to Tuesday’s election, there was a great deal of pressure on the IEBC to ensure that the voting technology functioned smoothly this time.
The torture and murder of Chris Msando, the IEBC’s head of IT, on 29 July – less than two weeks before the election – therefore caused deep unease.
But, on 8 August, everything seemed to have gone smoothly. The biometric system of identification mostly worked. By the morning of Friday 11 August, the IEBC had received data from 40,501 out of 40,883 polling stations. However, it seems the IEBC has only received 29,000 out of 40,884 copies of ‘form 34A’, which tabulates the official presidential vote count from each polling station, is signed off by the presiding officer and the candidates’ agents (if present), and then scanned and transmitted electronically to the IEBC’s tallying centre. Without having all these forms to present to the public, the IEBC has had to admit that the results it has been announcing since Wednesay are unofficial.
In a country with such a fraught election history, relatively minor incongruities can be amplified to create serious doubts among voters. The constitution gives the electoral commission seven days to announce results; in 2022, it may be wise to resist the pressure for news and declare only those results which can be backed up by a publically available, online copy of form 34A.
On 9 August, the day after the election, NASA released a 52-page computer log that they claim shows the use of Chris Msando’s credentials to hack into the voting database in the hours following the close of the polls, and the re-writing of the results to hand the presidency to Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term. The next day NASA held a press conference to announce that the majority of the copies of form 34A currently uploaded to the IEBC website are false. They stated that NASA allies in the IEBC have leaked the real numbers to them, which show that Kenyatta is not ahead by 1.4 million votes as the IEBC’s website shows – rather it is Odinga ahead of Kenyatta by 286,298 votes. They demanded that Odinga be declared president.
The IEBC has acknowledged that a hacking attempt was made but said that it failed, and rejected the accusations that those copies of form 34A that are already public are false.
Observers have said they do not doubt the overall integrity of the election, and have urged NASA to use the established legal channels to challenge the results. A strong showing for Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party in the down ballot races also seems to point to the veracity of the large lead the IEBC gives him.
Over the past two decades, Odinga has played a major role in making Kenya’s democracy more competitive and decentralized, particularly by helping to create the progressive 2010 constitution, which initiated the devolution of power and resources to the county level. If implemented more fully in the next five years, devolution can energize county politics and create more possibilities for citizen mobilization and accountability.
When he spoke at Chatham House, Odinga emphasized the importance of transparency in elections and – if he heeds his own words – he can make another significant contribution to democracy in Kenya. If he cannot deliver evidence that is accepted by observers or the courts as conclusive proof that the process has not been credible, he will need to concede quickly and gracefully.
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