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Tale of ‘missing’ officials who ran shambolic polls

Kisumu governor Jack Ranguma congratulated by his supporters after being declared winner in ODM primaries by deputy returning officer Richard Kioni. PIC BY COLLINS ODUOR

Immediately after the 2007 elections, former chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya Samuel Kivuitu, in a stuffy Kenyatta International Convention Centre, looked like a man whose shoulders bore the weight of an entire nation

Every blink of an eye or tremor of the lip or rolling of the eye was being interpreted differently by both sides of an anxious political divide, either perched on their chairs or standing on their toes waiting for him to make the  announcement that would rewrite Kenya’s history. He exhaled, peeped from under his glasses and told the nation that some of his people had let him down.

“Some of my returning officers have let me down,” he said. When he needed them most, his trusted lieutenants charged with helping the ECK deliver a credible election had vanished. They abandoned their stations and switched off their phones.

Although this was nearly 15 years ago, the chaotic party primaries brought to the limelight the role of returning officers in an electoral process.

For instance, on April 25, more than 24 hours after ODM nominations, many voters had not known the results. Returning officers had gone missing.

Hot spots

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In Homa Bay County, only Kasipul constituency where businessman Charles Ong’ondo was declared the winner with 11,800 votes had clear results. There was confusion in the remaining seven constituencies of Ndhiwa, Kabondo Kasipul, Karachuonyo, Rangwe, Suba, Homa Bay Town and Mbita.

Returning officers switched off their phones and disappeared from tallying centres. Some returning officers left the tallying centres in the middle of the tallying.

In Migori, confusion reigned after election officials announced parallel results, leaving incumbent Governor Okoth Obado and his competitor Ochillo Ayacko with certificates for their wins. And in the event of the returning officers abandoning their posts, party operatives in some areas were quick to appoint themselves returning officers and proceed to announce ‘results’.

In Kisumu County, some officials opted to have a secret tallying centre, away from the glaring eyes of the media and politicians.

Eventually, returning officer Tom Okongo hurriedly convened a meeting at Thurdibuoro in Nyakach, 70 kilometres from Kisumu town to declare Anyang’ Nyong’o the ODM governor’s nominee even though tallying in all seven sub counties had gone on for three hours. A few minutes later, Governor Jack Ranguma was also declared the winner by another returning officer.

Okongo could not explain to the media where he got the figures from yet none of the presiding officers had sent their reports to him.

Desperate aspirants

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There were claims some returning officers minted money from desperate aspirants, resulting in the double allocation of certificates.

The Saturday Standard established that some of the aspirants had to pay upto Sh 150,000 to be given the provisional certificates. It has also emerged that many of the returning officers went underground before announcing the results either because of threats to their lives or as a strategy to force the aspirants to pay money before being given the provisional certificates.

An aspirant for a ward representative seat in Muhoroni constituency, who requested anonymity because he was still pursuing the matter with the ODM headquarters, said he forked out Sh 150,000 to get a provisional certificate even though he had won the nominations. He said a senior election official had been playing hide and seek since Wednesday, even after he declared him the winner.

“He eventually asked for the money and I gave him. My fear is that I may fail to get the main certificate because I don’t know if someone else has given him a larger amount,” he said.

Cash demands

Another aspirant from a ward in the the constituency also said the same election official has been extorting money from him. “I won the seat but the officer said he will give me the certificate. When I called him later, he told me he had gone into hiding because his life was in danger. He later called to ask how much money I was willing to give him to fast track the process of issuing the certificate,” said the aspirant.

“He told me he was in Nairobi and that some of his seniors wanted to be given some money. I told him I don’t have the money because I used all my money in the campaigns. I recorded the conversation and I can prove it. I am now following my certificate with the ODM headquarters in Nairobi,” he addedd.

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The failure by the returning officers to declare the rightful winners of the nominations have caused confusion.

Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma and Muhoroni MP, Onyango have questioned why the ODM Elections Board was quiet when the returning officers were issuing two certificates for one seat.

“There is a lot of tension and bitterness because the losers are being given certificates. This is laughable,” said K’Oyoo.

The Saturday Standard learnt that the issue of the certificates is the main complaint in cases already filed before the party’s election tribunal.

Two certificates

In Kisumu Central constituency, three aspirants were given certificates showing they have won. Current MP, Ken Obura and his challengers Fred Ouda and Onyango Oloo have certificates signed by returning officer, Mr Laban Bosire. His cellphone was off throughout the day Thursday.

Mr Bosire first presented a certificate to Mr Obura during an event broadcast live on KTN News channel. Yesterday, Ouda said he was the winner.

Displaying his certificate to journalists, Ouda discredited claims by his rivals that they had been pronounced the winners.

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According to the returning officer, Ouda garnered 12821 votes to floor his fiercest rivals Obura and Oloo.

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