Voting officals count ballots on August 8, 2017 at the Victoria primary school polling station in Kisumu. Photo : AFP
One of Kenya’s top election officials quit Wednesday with a damning statement accusing her colleagues of political bias and saying an upcoming presidential election could not be credible.
The resignation of one of seven poll commissioners is the latest dramatic twist to an election process that has plunged the East African nation into its worst political crisis in a decade.
“The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017. I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity,” Roselyn Akombe wrote in the statement from New York.
The country’s Supreme Court on September 1 ordered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to carry out a re-run of the presidential election, after annulling the vote due to “irregularities” and mismanagement by officials.
Divisions in the commission burst into the open days later when a letter was leaked from the panel’s chairman to its CEO questioning a host of failings in the conduct of the August 8 poll.
Akombe said that she had questioned her role at the commission for many months, but had “soldiered on”.
“Sometimes, you walk away, especially when potentially lives are at stake. The commission has become a party to the current crisis. The commission is under siege,” she wrote.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta did not mention the resignation in a brief address to the nation, calling only for a national day of prayer on Sunday.
In a statement on Twitter, the IEBC said it “regrets” Akombe’s resignation, and that it would provide more details later.
Election at any cost
In an interview with the BBC, Akombe said she feared for her life and would not return to her home country in the foreseeable future.
In her statement she said field staff had in recent days expressed concerns about their safety, especially in areas hit by opposition protests against the IEBC.
In the western opposition stronghold Kisumu, rowdy youths on Wednesday disrupted a training session for polling officials, pulling down tents and chasing away trainees, chanting “no reforms, no elections” as they stoned their vehicles.
Similar incidents took place Tuesday, when police spokesman George Kinoti said IEBC officials were “attacked by hooligans riding motorcycles and were severely injured.”
Akombe accused her colleagues of seeking “to have an election even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters.”
She said the election could not be credible when staff were getting last minute instructions on changes to technology and the electronic transmission of results, and when training was being rushed for fear of attacks from protesters.
“It is not too late to save our country from this crisis. We need just a few men and women of integrity to stand up and say that we cannot proceed with the election… as currently planned,” she wrote.
Akombe, who took a break from a job at the United Nations to serve as an election commissioner, had become a familiar face on television programmes explaining the election process to Kenyans.
Her resignation is likely to further stoke anxiety that has been mounting in the run up to the election.
Mistakes ‘likely to be repeated’
After the August 8 vote, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga quickly cried foul over the counting process, accusing election officials of rigging the vote in Kenyatta’s favour.
His victory in getting the Supreme Court to overturn the result was a shock to many, and hailed as a sign of the country’s maturing democracy and institutions.
However the decision has been followed by acrimony, legal battles and confusion over how to carry out a new election that is credible, in the constitutionally mandated 60-day period.
Odinga last week announced he was withdrawing from the race, arguing the move would legally force the IEBC to begin the whole process from scratch, which would allow more time for deep reforms.
Despite the confusion over what Odinga’s withdrawal means, election officials appear to be pushing forward with plans to hold the vote as scheduled on October 26.
“There is a very high likelihood that the mistakes that some of the presiding officers made during the last election will be repeated,” Akombe told the BBC.
Odinga on Tuesday suspended a protest campaign to push for reforms after three people were shot dead in demonstrations. He has said he will announce his next course of action Friday.
Some 40 people have now died since the election, mostly at the hands of police according to rights groups.
Akombe warned that the lessons from a disputed 2007 election, which sparked politically motivated tribal violence that left 1,100 dead, were “too fresh, lest we forget.”