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Kenya poll result reveals deep stress on democratic institutions

The reality is that the entire range of Kenya's democratic institutions is in crisis. The weight of the state was brought to bear on this election in a way never seen before.

John Onyando
12 March 2013

The two main news conferences after the declaration of Kenya’s
presidential election results Saturday echoed sharp differences in the
country regarding the role local media played in the elections. While
rejecting the results, CORD presidential candidate Raila Odinga was
asked why the media routinely downplayed the many objections his party
had raised over the last five days of vote tallying. “It is part of a
conspiracy,” he said. Minutes later, Uhuru Kenyatta who had been
declared the winner paid a glowing tribute to the media, calling it
“mature” and “responsible.”

With Mr Odinga challenging the result in the Supreme Court, national
attention is riveted on the five men and a woman who constitute
the court. But the outpouring of faith in the last one institution
with the mandate to safeguard the legitimacy of the election overlooks
the conscious failure of literally every organ that came before it.
The media is conveniently pushing the line of the court’s independence
without examining how its own independence has been used.

The reality is that the entire range of Kenya's democratic
institutions is in crisis. The weight of the state was brought to bear
on this election in a way never seen before. Kenyatta's win is being
so ambitiously projected as a fait accompli that the UK Financial
Times noted in a report today that even the diplomatic community,
often a last flank of Kenyan society, is beginning to "appear fearful
of the consequences of rocking the boat."

After all the incredible reforms Kenya has made over the last five
years, it came as a surprise that the country could end up with an
election more tainted than even the previous one, which precipitated
violence and international intervention that paved the way for
sweeping reforms and the involvement of the International Criminal
Court. But the result was not a surprise to ardent Kenya watchers who
had seen every legal and political decision towards Kenyatta’s win
carefully tailored for the outcome.

The electoral, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, was at
the heart of fixing the election. Official results from the Commission
reveal massive fraud in the tabulation of vote tallies that could
never have escaped casual prudence. The voters’ register was brazenly
doctored, with thousands of voters from Odinga strongholds
disenfranchised to create phantom votes in areas where Kenyatta needed
them.

Weeks to the election, fears were rife about IEBC, whose integrity was
in doubt following credible information linking its top officials to
corruption in tendering. What was not certain was whether some of its
ten commissioners would be courageous enough to differ with the
corrupted colleagues in the event that the rigging became evident to them.
In the end, they all stuck together.

The declaration of Kenyatta's win was only the climax of a game in
which IEBC appeared indifferent to circumstances that would militate
against a free election. For months after Mr Kenyatta and his running
mate William Ruto were indicted at the ICC for crimes arising from the
violence of the last election, IEBC maintained that a decision on
whether the two could run was a preserve of the courts, where a case
was pending about whether individuals facing charges for heinous
crimes qualified to stand for presidential elections in a country
whose institutions are aiming towards consolidating democracy.

In the last 24 hours, while Kenyans are still debating the conduct of
the vote tallying, the media is pushing Kenyatta down their throats
through ingratiating reporting on discredited IEBC numbers and Uhuru’s
childhood in the Kenyatta household. It was common during the single
party era for Kenyans to get authoritative news from the BBC and not
local media. It seems we are back to those days. Comprehensive
accounts of the calculated ineptness that led to the electoral
commission declaration have been carried by the New York Times, BBC,
Financial Times and others but not local media.

The Supreme Court that everyone is writing lovingly about is no doubt
composed of Kenya’s best legal minds, including three men who have
suffered for reforms. However, it is untested, and Kenyans know the
pressures they will be brought under. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga just
before the election went public about threats to his life. The court
might surprise Kenyans by ruling on the facts and evidence, for if
anything history is made in times of crises. But any grand optimism is
premature.

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