Electoral fraud mars Kenya poll

Scenes of bloodshed and outright fraud characterised primary elections for the three main political parties, one of which will form the next government in Kenya after the general election set for December 27.

The Party of National Unity (PNU), the Orange Democracy Movement and Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya, the platforms on which President Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka are gunning for the presidency, held primaries last weekend.

But the barrage of disputes and controversy in the wake of the flawed nominations has made a mockery of the process, as rich and influential politicians bribed voters to earn party tickets to run for civic or parliamentary seats.

Given the scale of irregularities, voters are apprehensive that the tenth Parliament might not be any different from the ninth, which Kenyans condemned as the most corrupt and inept in the country’s history.

Even more worrying is the prospect of the violence and fraud to come as competition narrows down the number of parties and their candidates.

And ethnic hatred, an ever-present political undercurrent, is expected to fan more violence as the country moves towards one of the most fiercely fought presidential elections in memory, and as opinion polls show that the sitting president is poised to lose.

Supporters of the three parties condemned the primaries as a farce, given the sheer number of incidents in which election officials were abducted, votes bought and candidates’ names deleted from ballot papers.

In parts of Nyanza, where Kibaki’s main challenger enjoys strong support, scores of people were attacked with machetes, while in Nairobi a municipal candidate who failed to garner a nomination from the PNU sneaked a gun into the party’s headquarters.

Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) senior official Jack Tumwa conceded that although all the parties had breached election regulations during the primaries, the ECK lacked the machinery and personnel to enforce security and curb bribery.

Even where the breaches were obvious, Tumwa said, the ECK lacks the legal power to penalise offenders.

He attributed rampant electoral fraud to lax laws and moral decadence among the political elite. A lead story in a Sunday newspaper summed up the irregularities as “gangland democracy”, in reference to the amount of violence, voter intimidation and chicanery witnessed.

Aggrey Mwamu, a senior official of the Law Society of Kenya, said electoral fraud could be addressed if the mandate of the ECK were expanded to cover intra-party elections. In the current legal set-up, Mwamu said, the ECK had no powers to resolve intra-party disputes as it couldn’t enforce electoral laws.