Vote dis­pute es­ca­lates

Kenya’s op­po­si­tion de­clares its can­di­date the win­ner, though he trails in of­fi­cial tally.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com Twit­ter: @RobynDixon_LAT

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s main op­po­si­tion coali­tion claimed vic­tory Thurs­day in a con­tentious pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and de­manded that its can­di­date, Raila Odinga, be de­clared the win­ner.

Odinga was trail­ing by more than 1.4 mil­lion votes, ac­cord­ing to pro­vi­sional re­sults re­leased by the coun­try’s elec­tion com­mis­sion with 97% of polling sta­tions re­port­ing. But the op­po­si­tion pro­fessed to have ob­tained in­ter­nal com­mis­sion fig­ures show­ing that its can­di­date had de­feated the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent, Uhuru Keny­atta.

There were re­ports of cel­e­bra­tions in some op­po­si­tion strongholds. But if Keny­atta is de­clared the win­ner, it risks ig­nit­ing tense protests among Odinga’s sup­port­ers in Nairobi’s volatile slum districts and in western parts of the coun­try.

As Kenya faces the prospect of an­other dis­puted elec­tion, there were fears of a reprise of the eth­nic vi­o­lence that killed an es­ti­mated 1,500 peo­ple af­ter a sim­i­lar dis­pute in 2007.

Spo­radic clashes have erupted be­tween po­lice and op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers since Odinga told his fol­low­ers Wed­nes­day that hack­ers had ma­nip­u­lated data in the elec­tion com­mis­sion’s com­puter sys­tem.

Af­ter years of eth­nic ten­sion and pub­lic mis­trust in Kenya’s elec­tions, an elec­tronic sys­tem used to tally the paper votes has be­come the main bone of con­tention.

At a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, a se­nior fig­ure in the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Su­per Al­liance, Musalia Mu­davadi, ac­cused the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion of post­ing re­sults on its web­site that were at odds with the re­sults con­tained on its server.

Mu­davadi said Odinga had won just over 8 mil­lion votes, com­pared with 7.1 mil­lion for Keny­atta.

“The ac­cu­rate and law­ful re­sults in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is the trans­mis­sion re­ceived from the polling sta­tions and con­tained in the IEBC servers,” he said.

Mu­davadi urged op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers to re­main calm, say­ing the al­liance would present ev­i­dence of its al­le­ga­tions in court.

Odinga, who on Wed­nes­day had said that the op­po­si­tion might call on its sup­port­ers to stage protests, was present at Thurs­day’s news con­fer­ence but did not speak to re­porters.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers met with the elec­tion com­mis­sion chair­man, Wa­fula Che­bukati, on Thurs­day to de­mand that it stop post­ing “un­ver­i­fied re­sults.”

Che­bukati, who has promised to in­ves­ti­gate any al­le­ga­tions of fraud, ac­knowl­edged that there had been a hack­ing at­tack, but said it had failed.

Af­ter a hard-fought cam­paign, in­ter­na­tional ob­servers praised the com­mis­sion’s han­dling of the elec­tion and urged Kenyans to give mem­bers time to com­plete their work, which will in­clude check­ing the elec­tronic re­sults against paper records.

Former U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry, an ob­server for the At­lanta-based Carter Cen­ter, said Kenyans could rely on the vote tally forms, which were signed by party agents at more than 40,800 polling sta­tions and posted on­line by the com­mis­sion, to en­sure that the fi­nal re­sult was fair.

“It is the paper bal­lots and the ac­count­ing process es­tab­lished by the IEBC that tell the story of this elec­tion, not the elec­tronic trans­mis­sion of those numbers,” Kerry said.

Al­though he said the al­le­ga­tions of hack­ing “de­serve to be taken se­ri­ously,” he urged Kenyans to re­solve their dif­fer­ences in court and not in the streets.

“Any can­di­date’s le­git­i­mate ev­i­dence of some­thing that hap­pened needs to be judged, but it needs to be judged through the ap­pro­pri­ate process,” Kerry said.

The Euro­pean Union’s ob­server team said it had seen no ev­i­dence of any at­tempts to ma­nip­u­late the re­sults, but added that it was not in a po­si­tion to in­ves­ti­gate claims of hack­ing or elec­tronic ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Both Kerry and the head of the EU team, Ma­ri­etje Schaake, a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment from the Nether­lands, re­called the pain of their own elec­tion de­feats and urged los­ing can­di­dates to con­cede de­feat gra­ciously.

Kenya faces en­trenched cor­rup­tion, and its pres­i­den­tial elec­tions tend to be win­ner-take-all af­fairs, pro­duc­ing vic­tors who dole out jobs and fa­voritism to eth­nic al­lies.

With Keny­atta ap­pear­ing cer­tain of re­tain­ing power, the mis­trust of op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers in the sys­tem was ev­i­dent on the com­mis­sion’s Face­book page.

“Never again will I wake up and go to vote for a pre­de­ter­mined re­sults [sic],” wrote one an­gry voter. “I will never ever ever ever ever as­so­ciate with an elec­toral body in Kenya. Nei­ther will I ad­vise my chil­dren to vote.”

Oth­ers, ap­par­ently sup­port­ers of Keny­atta, urged the com­mis­sion to an­nounce the re­sult im­me­di­ately so that they could start cel­e­brat­ing.

One wor­ried com­men­ta­tor said Kenyans shouldn’t al­low politi­cians to di­vide them.

“As a de­vel­op­ing na­tion, we have come a long way. In­stead of bash­ing IEBC, let’s give them the ben­e­fit of the doubt and en­cour­age them,” the Face­book user wrote. “They’re all we have. This is our coun­try. We have no other moth­er­land.”

Ben Cur­tis As­so­ci­ated Press

RIOT PO­LICE fire tear gas at rock-throw­ing pro­test­ers in the Kawang­ware slum of Nairobi, Kenya’s cap­i­tal.

Ben Cur­tis As­so­ci­ated Press

A SUP­PORTER of op­po­si­tion can­di­date Raila Odinga dis­plays his mes­sage at a rally in Kawang­ware. Of­fi­cials fear a re­peat of the deadly elec­tion vi­o­lence of 2007.

Kabir Dhanji Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

RAILA ODINGA says that hack­ers ma­nip­u­lated data in the elec­tion com­mis­sion’s com­puter sys­tem.

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