by John Aglionby
Polling data company says October 17 election date is ‘way too risky’
Kenya’s electoral commission is set to postpone the repeat presidential election after the company providing the electronic voter list and results transmission system said it would not be ready by October 17, the planned date.
Andrew Limo, the commission spokesman, said: “We’re actively exploring changing the date and unlike the August 8 election, which was set in stone, this time we have some leeway.”
October 26 and 27 are dates being considered, Mr Limo said, adding that an announcement was expected by Wednesday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta won the August 8 election against his long-time rival, Raila Odinga, by 54 per cent to 45 per cent, or some 1.4m votes. But the Supreme Court nullified the result — the first time in Africa — after Mr Odinga’s National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition appealed, citing widespread rigging, particularly in the counting and tallying of votes.
Under Kenyan law the repeat ballot has to be held by the end of October, 60 days after the judges’ initial ruling. The electoral commission set October 17 as polling day after the government said a vote in late October would interfere with school exams despite objections from Nasa, which argued the commission would need more preparation time.
But on Monday Mr Limo said it “should be possible” to hold the election during the exam period. “Most schools we use for polling stations are primary schools and they’re not doing exams,” he said. “It’s only secondary schools and they’ll find a way [to hold the exams].”
The about-turn comes after OT-Morpho, the French company supplying the tablets for the 40,883 polling stations and the system to transmit the results to the national tallying centre, told the commission it would be “way too risky” to hold the vote on October 17.
Frederic Beylier, OT-Morpho’s chief operating officer, told the Financial Times the company would “be able to fulfil our assignment by the end of October”, provided there are “no technical changes” beyond altering the number of candidates to only Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga from the eight on the August 8 ballot.
Oliver Charlanes, OT-Morpho’s Africa director, said the extensive time required was owing in large part to the need to preserve the data on the tablets’ memory cards because the company is facing legal action from Nasa and is expecting the electoral commission to conduct an external audit of the data. “
What we would have done in different circumstances is reuse [what we have],” he said. “But considering . . . the external audit, we need to keep the data.”
Nasa has alleged that OT-Morpho was party to the rigging and has asked the French government to take action against the company.
But Mr Charlanes insisted the company was innocent and that there had been “no hacking, no intrusions or deletion of any data” on the systems OT-Morpho was responsible for. “What we don’t want is to be a scapegoat of this election,” he said.
Mr Beylier said OT-Morpho has initiated legal proceedings over the “false allegations” but declined to say against whom. He also said his staff in Kenya were facing “very serious” threats, mostly via social media.
Mr Odinga has threatened to boycott the repeat election unless a dozen senior members of the electoral commission Nasa believes perpetrated the rigging are fired and prosecuted.
Wafula Chebukati, the commission chairman, has said he will make changes to “personal and processes” but only after the supreme court delivers its full verdict explaining the “illegalities and irregularities” in the conduct of the election. By law, the judges must publish this by September 22.