Parties marshal resources to hire poll agents ahead of vote

Polling clerks and agents keep vigil at a Kiambu polling station during a Jubilee Party nominations on April 25. Political parties want to hire agents to man each polling station in the General Elections. [Photo: File, Standard]

Political parties are scrambling to recruit agents to man the polls as it emerges that they would be a key factor in winning the presidential election as effects of Friday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal starts being felt.

Indications are that this could cost over Sh1 billion for the two main contenders in the presidential race, Jubilee and NASA, and this figure may soar, considering there are six other presidential candidates.

NASA has already hit the ground with its Sh410 million “Adopt-a-Polling-Station plan, which aims to place five agents in each of the 41,000 stations. On Tuesday the alliance launched an online funds drive to support the initiative.

Jubilee Party recently called for applications for polling agents. The party Secretary General Raphael Tuju says they will have one agent per stream in each polling station.

“We will play by the rules, NASA is behaving like players who have been shown the field by the referee but they want to play even outside the recommended pitch. As Jubilee we cannot hold parallel system, we will stick to the law,” he told the Sunday Standard.

Since some polling stations have up to five streams, it means Jubilee’s planned number of agents may match NASA’s. In 2013, TNA and Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) paid their agents Sh2,000 each although there were claims of non-payment.

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Though the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati has warned the Opposition that only one agent per candidate will be allowed in every polling station, the Opposition insists on having its way on the matter.

And with the court having ruled that the results for the presidential race announced at constituency level will be final, the importance of political party agents has never been higher.

“The counting of the votes as elaborately set out in the Act and the Regulations. It is clear beyond peradventure that the polling station is the true locus for the free exercise of the voters,” ruled the five-judge bench in a far-reaching ruling.

The IEBC had appealed the High Court ruling that presidential poll results announced in the 290 constituencies are final and cannot be altered.

As part of its five-agent team NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga Saturday said it would include a chairman, secretary, treasurer, and youth and women representatives. This he said will seal all the loopholes that could be used to steal the elections.

“If they thought they would steal, they will not. Let me assure you we have closed for them all the holes they were planning to use to steal the elections,” he said at a rally in Luanda, Vihiga County

“There will be no sleeping. The proverbial 40 days of the thief have reached,” he said.

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Mr Tuju, however, said Jubilee will avoid the bravado by NASA and stick to the directive by the IEBC on the number of agents they will allow inside the polling station. “We would not be carried away by the fixation of NASA on the issue of agents. We will win this election through voters who will turn out to vote. NASA’s paranoia is because they have smelt defeat,” he said.

Adaptation

NASA’s plan is an adaptation of the strategy employed by the Ghana’s opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) to guard its votes in the 2016 election where its candidate Nana Akufo Addow trounced sitting president John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

NPP came up with an organised machinery of agents spread across the country, including in NDC strongholds. So effective were NPPs agents that by the next morning after the election the party had a full tally of the presidential result backed by evidence.

It, however, did not come cheap giving a pointer of how much money and logistical preparations political parties in Kenya will have to spend on their agents. In Ghana NPP paid each of their 29,000 agents spread in all polling stations 150 Cedis (Sh3,450) which cumulatively adds to Sh104 million.

With 41,000 polling stations, it will almost be impossibility for fringe candidates who don’t have the financial muscle to place agents at every station in Kenya. NASA has been urging its supporters to stick around the polling stations after casting their ballots to guard the vote.

NASA hopes to replicate NPP’s strategy and has met its officials on a number of occasions in Nairobi, Mombasa and in Ghana to learn from them.

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Besides the coalition’s Adopt–a-Polling-Station plan, there is another strategy dubbed  ‘Know Your Voter’ which will enable agents in their strongholds to know who has not yet voted, look for them and bring them to cast their ballot.

“This round there will be no vote lost. The agents will tick the name of each voter who has voted and by noon if there is a name of a person who has not voted, they will go to look for that person and bring them,” declared Raila.

Agent numbers

There is already a standoff between IEBC and NASA over the number of agents that will be allowed per polling station. Additionally the National Police Service on Wednesday wrote to IEBC seeking a clarification over NASA’s claims that it would assign five agents per polling station.

The Elections Act 2011 allows for one agent per political party per polling station. Apart from taking care of the interests of their party or candidate, the agents signs the declaration forms at the end of the count. “A candidate or agent shall have a right to dispute the count or object to the rejection of a ballot paper, where upon the presiding officer may decide to uphold or reject the complaint,” says the Election Act.

“The refusal or failure of a candidate or an agent to sign a declaration or to record the reasons for their refusal to sign as required shall not by itself invalidate the results announced,” the Act says.

Presidential results are declared in Form 34 while the other five seats are declared in Form 35. Each political party, candidate or their agent are then given the signed copy before the results are forwarded to the constituency, county and finally to the national tallying centre.

Indications are that each of these centres in the election chain will be swarmed by agents. Those vying for the gubernatorial, woman representative, Senate, Parliament and the County Assembly will also have their agents making it very crowded.

For example in Embakasi East, where there are four parliamentary candidates, we may end up with 36 agents per polling station.

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