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EU Monitors Watching Kenya Election Preparations

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks to the crowd during a Jubilee Party election rally in Nairobi, Kenya, July 21, 2017.

Whether Kenya's elections next month turn deadly violent, like the 2007 vote, or remain mostly peaceful, like the 2013 poll, international monitors will be on the ground to see whether the final outcome is trustworthy and fair.

With political tensions running high, it's too early to tell how the August 8 elections might go. But Marietje Schaake, the head of the 2017 European Union Election Observation Mission to Kenya, says the voters she's met with ardently hope there will be no election drama this time around.

“I myself have visited Mombasa, Eldoret and two other regions of Kenya, other than Nairobi, to talk to as many Kenyans as possible about what they see as important elements of this election. The vast majority of Kenyans want nothing more other than this election to be credible, transparent and peaceful," Schaake told VOA's Horn of Africa service in an interview Friday.

HRW has concerns

That's not guaranteed, given that opposition parties have complained of alleged irregularities in the electoral system, and Human Rights Watch released a statement Friday criticizing the conduct of security forces and expressing concern about Kenyans' rights to free expression and assembly ahead of the vote.

Earlier this month, the rights group urged Kenyan authorities to urgently investigate allegations of threats and intimidation between communities in Nakuru County's Naivasha area.

Schaake, a European Parliament member and a politician from the Netherlands, said the EU observers are trying to determine if those concerns are legitimate.

“We hear different opinions from different people and we are assessing the extent to which there is a founding in this or whether there is no reason for concerns,” she said.

FILE - In this photo dated May 28, 2017, National Super Alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga, addresses supporters after he presented his presidential papers in Nairobi, Kenya.
FILE - In this photo dated May 28, 2017, National Super Alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga, addresses supporters after he presented his presidential papers in Nairobi, Kenya.

EU mission has started

In late June, the EU mission deployed 15 two-person teams around the country to begin monitoring the run-up to the elections. They will be joined by more than 100 short-term observers in the days before the vote.

About 20 million Kenyans are registered to vote in the election, now less than three weeks away. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is running for a second term against seven opponents, most prominently former prime minister Raila Odinga. It was Odinga's loss in the hotly-disputed 2007 election that set off weeks of political and ethnic violence across Kenya, leaving more than 1,100 people dead.

Thousands of other contenders are vying for posts as senators, governors, members of parliament, members of county assemblies and women representatives.

All aspects of campaign being studied

Schaake says the EU observers are watching all aspects of the campaign, including the actions of the media, law enforcement, the parties, and the electoral commission.

“We talk to all kinds of stakeholders representative of political parties, police, and civil society to assess how the election have been organized,” she said. “…To look at the extent candidates can share their viewpoints. The way in which state resources have been deployed. Whether police and government are acting even handedly.”

“We really assess how the legal standards are applied and respected in practice,” she added.

Free and fair?

With a team of 130 observers, Schaake acknowledges the EU mission will not be able to monitor all polling stations on Aug. 8.

“We will only share about our observation what we have been able to see with our own eyes,” she said. “We are ambitious but we can't be in every town and township in this large and important country.”

The EU observers will stay in Kenya until after the election and prepare a final report on whether the poll was free and fair.