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Raila Odinga can continue ignoring on-goings at IEBC at his own peril

NASA flagbearer Raila Odinga and Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat KANU during the anti-IEBC demonstrations. (Photo: File/Standard)

After spending sometime assembling a team meant to boost his fourth presidential bid – a process otherwise described as a flagbearer selection mission for his new outfit, NASA, Raila Odinga must now turn his attention to on-goings at the electoral commission.

He must also devise a counter-narrative to the one concocted and peddled by his Jubilee rivals that he is unelectable, especially after losing the presidential elections in 1997, 2007 and 2013.

In 2013, a similar narrative, which in actual sense, was meant to psychologically prepare the public to ‘accept and move on’ in the event serious questions are raised regarding the validity of the presidential results, was issued by political analyst, Mutahi Ngunyi – that Jubilee commands a ‘tyranny of numbers.’

The then electoral commission jumped onto the bandwagon as well, and ran commercials that urged people to vote, go home, and accept the results, days to the polling day.

Little concerned

During the consequent proceedings at the Supreme Court after the now-defunct CORD coalition and AfriCog (a non-governmental organisation) filed petitions challenging the presidential results, others even went further to claim Uhuru was elected, not by the millions of voters who endured long-queues under the sweltering heat to vote for their preferred candidates, but by God! In the final analysis, a number of serious concerns, like the fact that the Jubilee Alliance had used the same server as IEBC’s to tally the results, were not enough to nullify Uhuru’s election.

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One wonders how it is possible then, that after losing two presidential elections with slight margins – 2.1 per cent to Kibaki in 2007 and 6.8 per cent to Uhuru in 2013 – including serious electoral mismanagement during these elections, Raila seems little concerned with on-goings at Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Indeed, Raila remains the best candidate to defeat President Kenyatta in the August 2017 polls, and as noted by Prof Nic Cheeseman, he is the best performing opposition candidate in Africa. But former Raila allies, like former constitutional advisor, Miguna Miguna, and his close confidantes, notably James Orengo, have all alluded to Raila’s complacency, distinctive lack of attention to detail and his hands-free style of management.

Manual back-up system

In early 2007, human rights lawyer, Maina Kiai, warned the opposition, then led by Raila, that the size of the Administration Police (AP) had noticeably been expanded. In addition, President Mwai Kibaki had unilaterally appointed new members to the electoral commission, including Kihara Mutu, his long-standing lawyer, to be the vice-chairperson.

These revelations did not seem to bother Raila much. After all, he was doing well in the opinion polls.

However, on election eve in December 26, 2007, a number of AP officers, reportedly hired by the Party of National Unity (Kibaki’s party) as party agents, were killed by members of the public in ‘unfriendly’ PNU areas when they were caught with stuffed ballot boxes.

As Kenyans were waiting for the election results to be announced at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) after the Election Day, it also became clear that Samuel Kivuitu, the electoral commission chairperson, had lost control (and contact) with some of his returning officers in the field. Raila, confused, lost command of his party lieutenants and followers.

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Amid the confusion, Kibaki was sworn in as President at State House, Nairobi, as Kenyans turned against each other across the country in an orgy of violence.

Fast forward to 2016, Raila hit the streets demanding disbandment of the Isaak Hassan-led IEBC that conducted the 2013 elections. His campaign to have the former commissioners replaced was successful, but his attempt to have manual back-up in voter identification and transmission of results expunged from the Election Laws in the event electronic transmission fails, wasn’t.

Important loophole

In my opinion, it seems Raila’s interest in affairs involving the IEBC fizzled by December 2016, when Mr Orengo filed a petition on behalf of the defunct CORD to halt the printing of ballot papers, arguing the tendering process did not adhere to the Constitution, Election (Amendment) Laws 2016, and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act.

Earlier this month, the High Court declared unconstitutional what was arguably the single-most important loophole that has supported all electoral fraud in presidential-elections since 1992. The High Court ruled that presidential results declared at the constituency level by returning officers will be final, and will not be subject to any alterations at the national tallying center. The role of the IEBC, the three-judge bench ruled, is not to determine the electoral outcome, but merely to faithfully report it.

The suit was taken to court, not by Raila, who has claimed on multiple occasions that his votes have been stolen, but by a trio of human rights activists, Khelef Khalifa, Tirop Kitur, and Maina Kiai. Since, Maina Kiai has continued to insist – his warnings continue to be unheeded – that something is being cooked at IEBC.

Two weeks ago, the IEBC wrote to the Kenya Bureau of Standards to ask for a waiver of a mandatory Certificate of Compliance (COC) that is usually issued after a Pre-Export Verification of Conformity to Standards (PVOC).

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The waiver concerned the importation of electronic voter identification devices for the August 2017 elections. The PVOC is required on all goods being imported into Kenya to ensure that what is being bought is of acceptable quality.

It is understandable that the IEBC has a tight schedule, but Ezra Chiloba, the executive officer, has assured the country that IEBC is ready to conduct the elections. However, if the quality of the gadgets will not be subjected to the required scrutiny, then we can be sure they will fail, and IEBC will resort to the manual back-up system that has been susceptible to fraud in previous polls.

The nature of successful campaigns has changed. Raila’s management style, and the wider disorganisation within CORD, was a central factor explaining their loss to Jubilee Alliance during the 2013 polls.

Uhuru’s campaign was highly centralised and more professional than CORD’s, and it was definitely better funded. It was common for one to hear complaints from CORD party agents that they hadn’t been paid, and that many left their assigned polling stations long before results had been counted, tallied and announced, even in CORD strongholds like Mombasa. The mobilisation of voters during voter registration was better organised in Jubilee strongholds in 2012 and again during the recently concluded mass voter registration exercise.

While Raila continues to depend on wealthy party financiers, a strategy that may lead to routine strategic blunders during his campaign as his own independence is hampered, Uhuru is known to enlist political marketing giants like British-based BTP Advisors and a small circle of loyal advisors who help in devising his campaign strategy.

Political rallies

Simply, as multi-party elections in Africa continue to occur with increased regularity, political campaigns will be forced to become more professionalised and bureaucratic, paying attention to every single detail, i.e. to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the electoral machinery.

Holding rallies that usually end up being chaotic in an attempt to whip up emotions and issue long-standing tirades against political opponents will no longer be enough. Attention should be focused on the weak and constrained IEBC, especially by the opposition, before it’s too late.

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The writer is a PhD candidate at Durham University, United Kingdom.

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