Kenya: IEBC in a pickle after Ruto & Chege’s claims on potential rigging of 2022 polls

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Wednesday, 9 March 2022 12:22, updated on Thursday, 10 March 2022 07:27

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks after he was announced winner of the repeat presidential election at the IEBC National Tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya, in Nairobi
President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks after he was announced winner of the repeat presidential election at the IEBC National Tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya's top politicians claim that vote rigging is highly likely during this year's presidential polls. This has caused panic among potential voters who still remember the bungled 2007 and 2017 elections. Will the electoral body get it right this time round or is history about to repeat itself?

Last month, Murang’a County’s female representative Sabina Chege caused a political storm when she claimed that vote rigging is possible in this year’s presidential election because it happened in 2017.

Chege, a staunch ally of President Uhuru Kenyatta, was daring supporters of Deputy President William Ruto who have constantly accused the head of state of trying to force Raila Odinga’s candidature upon them. “I have heard others saying we rigged, there is some truth in it, so if we managed to rig, even this one we can. They think they are the smartest,” she said while on a campaign trail for Raila.

Chege was referring to the disputed 2017 presidential election that saw the Jubilee party declared winner. At the time, the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, led by Raila, accused the Kenyatta-led party of rigging the elections. The presidential results were later nullified by the Supreme Court for failing to meet the required standard of a free and fair election.

There is a huge pushback by citizens against any attempts to choreograph the next dispensation.

Early this month, while on a visit to the US, Ruto caused another political storm when he alleged that a plan has been hatched by the so-called ‘deep state’ to rig this year’s presidential election in favour of Raila.

“There is a huge pushback by citizens against any attempts to choreograph the next dispensation. We want to make our choices without being chaperoned, blackmailed or intimidated,” Ruto said during a meeting at Loyola University in Maryland.

Despite the heavy criticism that the two political leaders have received, their allegations have put the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in an awkward situation.

Suspicion of the IEBC

Since the nullification of the presidential election in 2017, the IEBC has struggled to win the trust of many Kenyans who question its ability to conduct a free and fair election.

“In a fair democracy, the chairman and other commissioners would have resigned once the Supreme Court found [the] IEBC guilty of bungling the 2017 general election. However, they decided to stay on, which was rather unfortunate,” says Jacob Magena, a voter who resides in Nairobi.

Going by Magena’s sentiments, the commission has a major task ahead: to win over the 20 million-plus potential voters, some of whom have decided not to cast their ballots on 9 August 2022.

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati however says he is confident that they will prove the naysayers wrong as measures have been put in place to render vote rigging almost impossible.

Last week, for example, the IEBC signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for election coverage with two journalist organisations – the Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Editors Guild – as a way of assuring the public that the polls will be free and fair.

Chebukati says election results that will be announced at the polling stations will be final. “They [results] will be [shared with] journalists and agents of all political parties and they will be free to conduct parallel tallying. I am very sure that the chances of rigging elections this year are almost nil,” he says.

[…] the problem is how to prevent political parties [from] taking advantage of the manual option to inflate votes in their strongholds.

Hussein Marjan, the IEBC’s acting chief executive officer, says: “The MOU is meant to ensure there is transparency in results transmission during the 9 August general election and also to ease reporting of the events leading to the election day.”

Investigate politicians’ claims

The IEBC has also said it will investigate the authenticity of the claims made by the deputy president and make the report public. Chege has also been summoned to appear before the commission to substantiate her allegations.

Chebukati states that politicians are bound by the electoral code of conduct and those found to have breached it will be dealt with in accordance with the law. Those found guilty risk being barred from participating in the upcoming elections.

The IEBC has also succeeded in pushing parliament to increase its budgetary allocation to ensure that all the necessary election materials are procured and that necessary manpower is hired in good time.

Last month, parliament allocated an additional KSh8.81m ($77,247) to meet a shortfall after the Treasury disbursed  KSh33.013bn ($289.3m), pushing the election budget beyond KSh40bn ($351m).

To assert its role as an independent institution, the IEBC withdrew from the national multi-sectoral consultative forum on election preparedness headed by Chief Justice Martha Koome, saying involvement would infringe on its independence.

The move was lauded by the deputy president and his allies, but condemned in equal measure by the handshake team allied to Kenyatta and Raila, who accused Chebukati of unnecessary grandstanding.

Unaudited voters’ register

Last month, the IEBC said it had failed to secure an independent firm to audit the register of voters, raising fears that the country might go to the polls with an unaudited document.

“The law requires [that] an audit be conducted six months to the general election to eliminate double-registration and remove the dead from the register, yet [the] IEBC has not fulfilled this task five months to the election. This automatically raises a red flag,” says political analyst John Charo.

We advertised for an independent audit firm to audit the voter register, the firm was found to be non-responsive.

Charo warns that unaudited voters register can be a recipe for chaos, which if not handled carefully, can result in a major election dispute due to deep rooted suspicions that competing political parties harbour against each other.

The commission, however, assures Kenyans that the matter will be resolved in due course. “We advertised for an independent audit firm to audit the voter register, the firm was found to be non-responsive. We have since re-advertised, this time we got more than two and we hope we will get a firm to audit our register,” Marjan told the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee early this month.

The commission, nonetheless, will have to seek a legal opinion from the Attorney General on how to proceed since the period to execute the task as per the law has expired.

Changes to electoral laws

Last month, the IEBC caused an uproar after it proposed changes to the electoral laws to allow for manual voter identification and manual transmission of results.

The proposals contained in the Electoral Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022 were roundly criticised by legislators allied to Kenyatta and Raila as well as those supporting Ruto, who accused the commission of trying to bring back outdated methods that had been found to be wanting.

IEBC strongly defends the bill, which has already been tabled in parliament, saying it proposes a complementary mechanism for results transmission in instances where electronic transmission is not possible due to poor internet coverage.

“The Bill seeks to align with the ruling of the Supreme Court in the 2017 presidential election that election results are what is contained in the form 34A which is the primary document and final result recorded at the polling station,”  says Chebukati

Manipulation of election outcomes

The commission will have to do more to convince potential voters about the importance of having an option in place. This is because manual identification of voters and manual transmission of results have been abused in the past by politicians to  manipulate and falsify election outcomes.

In 2007, for example, manual poll processes were partly to blame for the massive irregularities that led to a highly contested presidential election, which left 1000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced.

“It is important to have a plan B in any election, the problem is how to prevent political parties taking advantage of the manual option to inflate votes in their strongholds, the way it happened in 2007 resulting in post-election violence,” says Charo.

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