NAIROBI, Kenya — On Wednesday, the Kenyan Supreme Court began hearing arguments over accusations of voter fraud in its most recent presidential election. Earlier this month, the party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for a cessation of vote counting. The final election results were supposed to be transmitted electronically, but a server malfunction resulted in a complete failure of the digital voting system. Accusing the totals of being “doctored,” Odinga’s campaign officials requested a fresh count, with oversight on all parts of the tallying process. The tally indicated that Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first president, was the winner. He passed the 50 percent threshold by less than 9,000 votes out of over 12 million. However, due to a long history of ethnic tensions, there is a cloud of anxiety hanging over the entire country as the Supreme Court prepares to make a decision.
Kenya’s last elections were in 2007, with a presidential contest between Mr. Odinga and the eventual winner, Mwai Kibaki. In an eerily similar episode, Mr. Odinga and his supporters made accusations of voter fraud and refused to acknowledge the validity of the results. These claims were supported by many international oversight organizations. Members of Mr. Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, of which Mr. Kenyatta is also a member, were subjected to extraordinary acts of violence in the election’s aftermath. Some of these victimized Kenyans responded in kind against Mr. Odinga’s Luo tribe and their allies, engendering a cycle of destruction and murder which ended with more than 1,000 deaths and around 200,000 displaced persons.
Kofi Annan managed to intervene; in 2008 both Kibaki and Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement which established a coalition government and granted them the positions of President and Prime Minister, respectively. Now, five years later, the disputed election results are causing many to worry that violence will again grip Kenya if there is no swift resolution. Attacks have already been occurring over the past several months—in the Tana River Delta, over 200 have died due to clashes between the Pokomo and Orma tribes. Both sides claimed to be victims at the hands of the other; both could point to stolen or destroyed voting documents, pillaged neighborhoods, and murdered friends and family.
This is the first time that Kenya’s Supreme Court is making a decision on the results of a presidential election. Kethi Kilonzo, a lawyer for one of several nonprofit organizations backing up Mr. Odinga’s claims of electoral fraud, asserted that the final combined results differed from the local reports; there were a “thousand votes from candidates who didn’t stand a chance” improperly given to Mr. Kenyatta, and that “it wasn’t” an isolated incident.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga leads the Supreme Court’s effort to sort through all of the evidence, with hopes of delivering a decision this weekend. For the sake of Kenya’s people, and for its future, the kind of violence that has taken hold over the nation after past elections cannot be allowed to have a resurgence.
– Jake Simon
Source: New York Times
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