Despite about 10 percent of Kenyans not being able to cast a vote because of violence, Kenya’s electoral commission has declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of a re-run of the country’s presidential election.
Kenyatta received 98.26 percent of the vote in an election that was boycotted by the opposition and has rekindled the deep tribal divisions that have in the past led to serious outbreaks of violence.
Before the making the announcement Monday, Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, called for a moment of silence for the dozens of men and women who have been killed during the course of these elections.
Chebukati, who less than two weeks ago said he could not conduct a fair election because of political meddling in his commission, said he believed in the future of Kenya’s democracy. But, he said, Kenya also has to deal with problems that are easier “swept under the rug.”
“Democracy is about hope; it’s about a future that is greater than the present. It’s about creating an environment and institutions that inspire a Kenyan dream,” he said. “It’s about knowing without a shadow of doubt that they are part of the Kenyan story.”
Back in August, the country’s Supreme Court threw out the results of the first presidential elections citing vast irregularities. At that moment, the court asserted its independence and Kenya was hailed a beacon of democracy in East Africa. It was the first time an African supreme court had annulled the victory of a sitting president.
But the history of the moment and what it meant for Kenya’s maturing democracy, quickly faded. It was marred by the politicization of two key institutions — the IEBC and the Supreme Court — and the tribalization of the violent street protests. In the end, only about 38 percent of registered voters went to the polls, a long way from the 75 percent who did so in August.
A new poll was set for Oct. 26, but opposition leader Raila Odinga said too few changes had been made to correct the mistakes of the first election, so he pulled out. Bouts of violence shook Kenya’s opposition strongholds and as elections officials tried to do their jobs, they were attacked.
A top elections official fled to the United States and raised questions about the fairness of the process. And the day before the Supreme Court was set to hear an important challenge to the elections, the deputy chief justice’s bodyguard was shot. The next day, only two judges showed up for the hearing — not enough to form a quorum.
In a statement, the European Union called the lack of quorum “highly unusual” and said it “raised serious questions … about possible political interference.” The Carter Center urged President Kenyatta and Odinga to dialogue so the IEBC could conduct a credible election.
But the two men have yet to meet and election day was marked by violence as opposition supporters barricaded streets and battered polling stations with rocks. In opposition strongholds in western Kenya, the threat of violence was so bad, officials called off elections, saying some of their staff had been “hijacked and … tortured.”
About 10 percent of Kenyans never got the chance to vote. Kenya’s electoral commission decided to go ahead and announce results anyway. Kenyatta’s lead was so large, Commissioner Consolata Nkatha said, that those votes would not matter.
A Western diplomat, who asked not to be named so he could speak candidly, said both sides had engaged in “undemocratic activities.” The opposition stopped people from voting; the ruling party passed legislation through parliament that tried to curb the power of the Supreme Court.
“This is about powerful men thinking they can do whatever they want,” the diplomat said.
When asked whether his country would recognize these elections as free, fair and credible, he said,”What we’ve seen so far, certainly calls into question the credibility.”
The Kenyan government says it went through with the elections because the constitution calls for fresh elections to be held within 60 days of an annulment.
“There will be no changes of government in a manner outside the constitution,” said Korir Sing’Oei, a legal adviser for the country’s deputy president. What the opposition leader was doing, he said, was inviting Kenya “to set aside the constitution for an indeterminate processes that no one knows where it was going.”
Martin Kimani, the government’s counterterrorism chief, said the opposition or anyone with a grievance is also free to petition the Supreme Court once again and ask it to throw out this repeat election and demand a third one.