November 23rd 2017

Top Stories / National

Sham election: IEBC turmoil strikes at heart of foreign observers' support for Oct 26 poll

While the observers who endorsed the August 8 election recalibrated their positions to reflect the weight of irregularities and illegalities that led the Supreme Court to nullify it, the western governments have remained firmly in support of IEBC, criticising Raila for demanding changes in IEBC.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 18 Oct 2017 11:15 EAT

Chief Observer of the EU’s Election Observation Missions for the August 8 election, Marietje Schaake, speaking to journalists in Nairobi. File photo.

Elgeyo Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen, a strong defender of the electoral commission's handling of the nullified August 8 presidential election, has alleged the presence of “a wide scheme” by powerful forces to stop the planned October 26 repeat election.

Speaking on a local television station this morning, Murkomen said the resignation of IEBC commissioner Roselyn Akombe was part of the scheme. “Some people are working hard to cripple the forthcoming poll,” Murkomen said, connecting Akombe to the powerful forces he did not name.

Murkomen also could not state his own opinion as to whether, given the revelations made by Akombe about IEBC's unpreparedness to hold the election in strict adherence to the law and the opposition's withdrawal, the election slated for October 26 would still be free and fair, claiming it was not up to politicians to determine whether an election is free and fair.

Akombe has highlighted three issues that sit at the core of a free and fair election. First, she said the IEBC staff were fully compromised and serving external political interests. “There was a time when we in IEBC could make a level playing field, but unfortunately that time has lapsed,” she told BBC Newsday from New York, where she has gone into exile.

Second, Akombe said the technology being deployed for the election will not work, and IEBC is not communicating the failure to the public. She said that the commission was taking a risky gamble where the results for two candidates would be transmitted electronically yet the paper-based reporting system had seven candidates.

Third, Akombe left doubts whether indeed President Uhuru Kenyatta was the leader in the nullified August 8 presidential election. The NASA leader Raila Odinga has claimed repeatedly that he won the election, and that the information is contained in the servers that were used by IEBC in that election.

IEBC commissioners made a decision after the Supreme Court ruling that the servers would be audited, Akombe said, but the secretariat staff and four commissioners who support Jubilee schemes at the commission had flatly refused to open the servers. So IEBC officials themselves are not sure about the figures of the last election even as the same technology is being deployed for a fresh election.

Akombe laid the blame for failure in the commission at the door of the four commissioners whom she accused of serving the Jubilee agenda. She said the four commissioners have made it impossible for any decision to improve the election environment. “It has become increasingly difficult to continue attending plenary meetings where commissioners come ready to vote along partisan lines and not to discuss the merit of issues before them. It has become increasingly difficult to appear on television to defend positions I disagree with in the name of collective responsibility”.

On a KTN interview, she said the election being planned will not meet even basic requirements of a free and fair election. “You can’t do much when every decision of the commission has to be taken through a vote and the chairman always has only two votes. When he says partisan secretariat staff have to leave, you have the same set of four commissioners saying the staff are going nowhere.

“When the chairman says, look, we need a different printer and not Al Ghurair, you have the commissioners saying we must stick with the printer. And when he says the commission is not ready for election, that we need to address the technology challenges, the same four commissioners are saying we are ready for the election”.

She says the intransigence by the four commissioners had reached a point where she found it untenable to keep defending decisions arrived at by collective responsibility when the decisions were being imposed on four commissioners and the secretariat staff who had made up their minds about the outcome of the election. “They are prepared to take the country to hell.”

On whether any meaningful changes can be conducted within the remaining time, Akombe said. “It is not possible as the commission is constituted now to make changes internally, because you have to have enough votes…The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017”.

“It broke my heart in the last few days to listen to my staff in the field, majority of whom truly want to do the right thing, express to me their safety and security concerns,” she said in the resignation statement.

Akombe visited Nyanza and Western regions over the weekend and observed the opposition by voters to the October 26 election. She cited on IEBC staff undergoing training in Kisumu, Mumias, Bungoma, Homa Bay and Siaya, the latter where the training had to be cancelled.

But when she came back to Nairobi and reported her findings to the commissioners, she met extremist responses by her colleagues who wanted to press ahead with the election “even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters….I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity.”

With Raila withdrawing from the election, the poll’s successful conduct was pegged only one source of strength: the endorsement by foreign observers representing western powers. The European Union observer mission, for example, while being critical of IEBC failure to reform its processes since the Supreme Court ruling, had basically said the election could go on.

Even though the observers who endorsed the August 8 election recalibrated their positions to reflect the weight of irregularities and illegalities that led the Supreme Court to nullify it, the western governments have remained firmly in support of IEBC, churning out statements critical of Raila’s demand for changes in the commission.

Akombe’s resignation will leave the western powers with egg on their face. Every person who has followed the election knows that Akombe was the most respected commissioner in IEBC. With the exception of the chairman, she is the one who spoke to media and articulated the commission’s positions.

When she now says that IEBC is not ready for election, that the commission is not communicating its key failures to the public, and that four commissioners and the secretariat staff are totally compromised by Jubilee to deliver a credible election, no institution committed to the principles of free elections can ignore that.

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