Q&A: Kenya vote battle heads to the courts

Rahema Abdul-Rahman, a key figure in Raila Odinga’s election bid, explains why they’re fighting the announced results.

Nairobi, Kenya – On Monday, March 4, Kenyans turned out in huge numbers to vote in a landmark election. Choosing MPs, governors, senators, women’s representatives and a new president to lead this nation, more than 11 million voters cast their ballots.

It was a polling day marred only by heat and kilometre-long queues, with many stations staying open late in order to allow everyone who had turned up the chance to vote. “Every vote counts, and every vote will be counted,” one polling station presiding officer told Al Jazeera.

But as many voters arrived in polling places, they found the electronic biometric voter ID systems had failed, or the laptops running them had run out of battery power. Several voters told Al Jazeera they were confused by the voting process, with several different coloured ballot papers, despite Kenya’s electoral commission, the IEBC, having organised a country-wide civic education campaign in the final weeks before the vote.

Preliminary results were then meant to be collated at each polling station, with the presiding officer sending them through to the national tallying centre via a special SMS mobile phone app. This was intended to give preliminary results within 48 hours of polls closing, while the totals from each constituency were tallied by hand over the course of several days to provide definitive results within a week.

However, after polls closed, disaster struck. The automatic system failed, amid as-yet-unsubstantiated claims the IEBC’s system had been hacked, and officials were forced to call off the automatic tallying, choosing to rely exclusively on the manual count. Confusion reigned, as allegations and counter-allegations flew.

After Uhuru Kenyatta was named Kenya’s fourth president, his rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, told reporters he would contest the announced result in the Supreme Court, and laid out a series of allegations including tally-tampering and turnout inflation.

Al Jazeera’s James Brownsell caught up with Rahema Abdul-Rahman, a leading figure within the Odinga campaign, and asked her about the court bid.

Rahema Abdul-Rahman is a senior member
of Odinga’s campaign communications team

James Brownsell: Why are you bringing this case to the Supreme Court? What are the merits of the case?

Rahema Abdul-Rahman: We want to end the culture of election rigging in Kenya and restore confidence in our democratic processes. Our case is well merited. We have evidence of the violation of statutory provisions relating to the conduct of elections, as well as falsified figures and outright ballot box stuffing.

We will, through our petition, test the pedigree of our judicial institutions in restoring electoral integrity in Kenya.

JB: Why not just accept defeat?

RA-R: Accepting defeat in the face of massive electoral irregularities is tantamount to legitimising impunity. We are taking this action on behalf of Kenya. We have an opportunity to clean up our electoral system and we will not let it pass – lest history condemns us harshly.

The people of Kenya deserve to be led by legitimate, elected leaders. We must put to an end the culture of letting those who tally our votes determine the outcome.

Elections should only be determined by Kenyans through a fair process.

JB: What actual, physical evidence do you have of rigging or tally tampering?

RA-R: We have massive evidence of electoral irregularities that render the entire presidential election a fraud.

We will be moving to court shortly, where we will lay bare the evidence for the world to see.

At this moment I don’t wish to delve into the contents of our evidence, lest it prejudices our case.

JB: Do you worry that contesting the result in court will negatively affect the unity of the Kenyan people?

RA-R: There is no threat whatsoever to national unity. If anything, Kenyans are hurting from the inside. Long term peace and unity will be founded on justice and equity – where every Kenyan is satisfied with the outcome of the election.

And most importantly, we have fidelity to the rule of law, and that is why we are going to court to contest the results of the election.

JB: What next? If the court upholds the IEBC declaration, will ODM/CORD accept their ruling?

RA-R: We have made a commitment to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court – and we are challenging Uhuru [Kenyatta] and his team to make a similar commitment.

JB: If the court rules in your favour, will there be a head-to-head run-off?

RA-R: If the Supreme Court rules in our favour, then we will have a repeat of the presidential election within 60 days – and only the eight candidates who participated in the March 4 election will be eligible to contest.

[However,] we have only anticipated this being a contest between our candidate and Uhuru Kenyatta… In my view, I do not expect the other candidates to compete.

JB: What makes you think you have a better chance of winning in a straight run-off against Kenyatta?

RA-R: We have no doubt in our mind that we enjoy massive support from all Kenyans, and if the election is conducted in a free and fair manner and in accordance with the law, we will emerge victorious.

JB: What’s next for the ODM if Raila retires?

RA-R: ODM is bigger than any individual, it is a mass movement of all Kenyans, and we surely have no shortage of leaders in our party ranks. We will have plenty to pick from and I am sure Raila will still have a great role to play in shepherding the party.

Our court petition is not about Raila as a person. It is about Kenya, it is about building and strengthening our democractic institutions.

In pursuit of a better, reformed Kenya, we will not relent.

Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell

Source: Al Jazeera