Confusion swirls over Kenya vote count

Next president unlikely to be revealed for some time yet – a far cry from the 48 hours predicted before votes were cast.

Kenya elections
Though voting day passed off peacefully, many violations of electoral procedure were observed nationwide [AFP]

Nairobi, Kenya – Polling station chiefs have been flown to Kenya’s capital to speed up the announcement of the country’s election results, but analysts are not expecting the nation’s next president to be revealed for some time yet.

With fears of technical problems affecting the systems of the IEBC, Kenya’s central elections commission, the shift to a manual count also aims to ward off further allegations of electoral irregularities.

Ahmed Issack Hassan, IEBC chief, has since revealed that results may not be available until Friday – or even Monday – a far cry from the 48 hours they had confidently predicted before votes were cast.

Though voting day passed off largely peacefully – albeit marred by isolated incidents, including the killings of more than a dozen people in Mombasa – electoral observers have said that violations of electoral procedure were noted across the country.

Kenya’s Election Observers Group (ELOG) said that in 15.2 percent of polling places, people who were not registered on the electoral roll were nonetheless allowed to vote, and in 17.6 percent, voter secrecy was violated.

Ballot-box issues reported

Uchaguzi, a citizen monitoring group has also said that widespread ballot-box issues have been reported, with some citizens protesting what they perceive to be “foreign votes” introduced into the ballot boxes.

What has been causing most contention among campaign staff and observers has been the huge number of spoiled votes. More than 330,000 ballot papers – nearly six percent of all those so far counted – have been rejected.

“Most of the rejected ballots I encountered were spoiled because voters put a tick in the box next to the candidate of their choice, and then put crosses in all the other candidates’ boxes, [invalidating the papers]” Joseph Khanda, presiding officer at a polling station in the Nairobi suburb of Westlands, told Al Jazeera.

“Other voters put no mark at all on voting papers. A lot of people seemed to only want to vote in the presidential and member of national assembly ballots, and not to vote in the other polls.”

With the race between Prime Minister Raila Odinga  and his deputy, Uhuru Kenyatta , so close, tensions are rising and allegations are beginning to fly.

But should the rejected ballots be counted?

Expert’s opinion

Bob Mkangu, a lawyer and member of the committee that drafted Kenya’s constitution, says yes.

“The Kenyan constitution states that, under article 138 subarticle four, that, in considering the proportion, in percentage, of how much each candidate gets in a presidential election, we have to consider that through examining all the votes that have been cast for that presidential election,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Meaning that, in calculating that percentage, you calculate regarding all the votes, whether rejected or valid.

“To give an example, in a polling station, if a box is opened, what is counted is all the votes for each candidate – and the rejected votes are also considered. But in doing the percentage for how much each and every candidate has gotten, all those votes, including the rejected ones, are considered. And the philosophy behind that is the fact that each and every Kenyan who went to cast a vote and had an opinion about who he or she wanted to be president – that entire totality – should be considered… Both the valid and invalid votes should appear [in the final tally].

“The message to Kenyans from diverse voices is to remain calm and patient, considering also that the constitution does gives the electoral management body up to seven days to declare the final declaration.”

On this point, Kenyan law seems clear, with a clause in the country’s new constitution stating “votes cast” count towards the total, rather than “validated votes”.

Chapter seven, paragraph 86 of the Kenyan constitution states:

At every election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall ensure that:

(a) whatever voting method is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent;

(b) the votes cast are counted, tabulated and the results announced promptly by the presiding officer at each polling station;

(c) the results from the polling stations are openly and accurately collated and promptly announced by the returning officer; and

(d) appropriate structures and mechanisms to eliminate electoral malpractice are put in place, including the safekeeping of election materials.

Including the spoiled votes in the total number of votes cast lowers the proportion of the total vote that can be attributed to each candidate. With Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition taking an early lead in the count, the inclusion of spoiled votes brings his total back down closer to the 50 percent mark – and brings the country closer to a run-off vote between the two frontrunners in a month’s time.

Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, has claimed that UK High Commissioner to Kenya Dr Christian Turner – an accredited election observer – was behind the IEBC’s decision to include the spoiled votes in the statistics.

“Further, we at the Jubilee Coalition are alarmed by the abnormally high influx of British military personnel in the country which began around the voting day, under the pretext of training,” said Jubilee spokesperson Charity Ngilu. 

The troops are on a routine exercise planned nine months ago, said British officials.

“Claims of British interference, including by the High Commission, in the electoral process are entirely false and misleading,” read a statement from the UK foreign office.

“The UK does not have a position on the question of how to handle the rejected votes. That is for the IEBC, and, if necessary, Kenyan courts, to determine.”

Odinga’s ODM party have also said that the votes counted so far have been collated from Jubilee strongholds, and that Odinga heartlands have yet to be tallied. ODM officials have been collating their own tallies from election centres around the country, and maintain they are leading the vote count, despite the figures so far released by the IEBC.

Odinga “knows he is winning”, a top campaign aide said late on Tuesday night.

The IEBC said that the vote continued through the night, despite few updates being published.

“The electronic transmission system was slow, but the vote count did not stop,” said the IEBC’s Tabitha Muthemi.

Muthemi also denied that their software had been tampered with.

“That is a rumour,” she said. “We think we have not been hacked.”

Patience needed

European Union observers said the elections had been characterised by a push for peace, transparency and credibility.

“Great patience is now required,” EU Chief Observer Alojz Peterle told reporters.

“Quite many factors cause rejected votes,” said Peterle, a former prime minister of Slovenia. “It is up to election authorities to be clear with that. We need clarity, because this is an important element of the story.”

Peterle denied that the EU mission had urged the IEBC to include the spoiled papers in the overall count.

“We are observers, not agents,” he said. “We are here as partners. Our mission is clear; we don’t have a political mission here.”

Money well spent?

Since 2010, the US State Department has awarded $35m to the Kenyan government for voter education campaigns.

The EU has invested $5.6m in the electoral process, as part of a $25m package to boost governance and civil society programs in Kenya.

“The civic education programmes did not work as well as we’d hoped,” polling station chief Joseph Khanda admitted on polling day.

With so many votes cast erroneously, how was this money spent?

The IEBC held a series of public workshops in each county across Kenya during the month of February, covering a range of topics from “making wise electoral choices” to “post-election peace and cohesion”, as well as explaining how the biometric voter recognition machines worked.

The elections body also held a competition to design posters highlighting peaceful electioneering as well as women’s and youth participation.

A State Department official told Al Jazeera they would not comment on whether the US considered this to be money well spent.

Through all the murkiness and tangled webs of politically motivated allegations and counter-allegations, what remains clear is that Kenya’s voters will have to wait for some time to come before who has won this election becomes clear.

Source: Al Jazeera