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January 17, 2013

Delays, Disorder Plague Kenyan Primaries

by Gabe Joselow

Long lines and missing ballot papers caused mass frustration Thursday across Kenya during national primaries to elect local candidates for the March general elections. Observers are watching the primaries for a sign of things to come during the national vote.

Tired and frustrated, hundreds of would-be voters waited at the Anglican Church in Nairobi's Kibera neighborhood for a chance to select their candidates for The National Alliance [TNA] party.

Polling was supposed to begin at six in the morning, but the ballots did not arrive until the afternoon.

Frustrated voters

Kibera resident Zam Obed said tension is growing as voters become more impatient.

“So far I don't find it's very good, you know Kibera is a hotspot in Kenya, and for this nomination to take this long, and it is not good," said Obed. "They should have said morning and it started in morning. So how long are they going to have it?”

Similar problems were reported across the country, and TNA announced it would have to extend the voting exercise by another day, blaming the country's electoral commission [IEBC] for not providing the voter register list on time.

Some are starting to suspect, though, that the delays and the missing ballot papers could be intentional. The head of a Kibera youth organization, Livingston Okwete Hawama, said people are concerned the vote already has been rigged.

“Now there are rumors going around that somebody has been given already the certificates, now we don't know what's going to happen next,” said Hawama.

Logistics issues

Problems with polling were not limited to TNA, another leading party, the Orange Democratic Movement [ODM] also had trouble providing ballot papers and opening polls on time.

This year's primaries are different from past voting exercises in Kenya, in that voters are, for the first time, selecting candidates for political positions created by the new constitution - including governor, senator and women's representative.

Presidential candidates have been chosen separately by parties, and will run in the March 4 general elections.

The TNA candidate is Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president and an International Criminal Court indictee. ODM is led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who contested and lost the last presidential election in 2007.

Peter Alingo, Director of the Institute for Education in Democracy in Nairobi is monitoring the primaries as part of Kenya's Electoral Observation Group. He said the disorganization has shown political parties are unprepared.

“Our concerns, which we have raised with a number of them, and which we continue to observe is the level of preparedness which they've had for this exercise and that is where our disappointment comes in,” he said.

Eye on general elections

Alingo said any concerns that the process has been corrupted also could have repercussions for the general election.

“We would like to see an open, transparent and accountable process, because if we have any lesser process then we stand the risk of jeopardizing the integrity of the 4th March elections itself,” he said.

While somewhat chaotic and tense, Thursday's primary process has been mostly peaceful. Observers also are watching for early signs of violence in order to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence that followed the last general election in 2007, in which more than 1,000 people were killed.