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Kenya:Commonwealth withdraws observers from repeat poll

AU and Commonwealth election observers follow proceedings at Bomas of Kenya on August 11, 2017 during the official announcement of presidential election results. The Commonwealth has pulled out of the repeat presidential election, citing security fears for its observers. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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The Commonwealth has pulled out of the forthcoming fresh presidential election, citing security fears for its observers.

Diplomatic sources have told Nation that the decision to withdraw observers resulted from the tension that has punctuated the impending election coupled with the withdrawal of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s main challenger, Nasa’s Raila Odinga.

“Everybody cited security fears. They felt it is not safe to observe elections when electoral officials themselves have been targeted,” one senior official in one of the countries affiliated to the Commonwealth told the Nation, but sought to remain anonymous so that he could discuss the matter freely.

On Tuesday, a Commonwealth spokesman confirmed the organisation will not be sending any observers on Thursday, but declined to discuss the matter further.

“The Commonwealth is not deploying an election observation group for the presidential election,” the agency said in a short statement to Nation on Tuesday.

“We sent a team of observers to the first set of elections and this time we will have a presence in the form of Commonwealth staff who are already on the ground.”

MEMBERS

The Commonwealth, which brings together the UK and most British colonies such as Kenya (and also includes Rwanda and Mozambique, former Belgian and Portuguese colonies) has been a perennial election observer in Kenya since the advent of multiparty politics.

They often deploy teams in member countries to check on voting as a way of learning from each other.

In the August 8 election, it sent in a 15-member observer team led by former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama.

But the group got into reputation troubles after it endorsed an election which would later be nullified by the Supreme Court.

Mr Mahama, who himself had lost an election to Nana Akufo-Addo in December 2016, had called on Kenyans to maintain peace during and after voting.

HACKING CLAIMS

But he irked opposition chiefs with a comment declaring that the election had been fair and credible, in spite of claims of system hacking.

“Our overall conclusion is that the opening, voting, closing and counting process at the polling stations on 8 August 2017 were credible, transparent and inclusive,” he told journalists on August 10, a day before the IEBC declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner.

“We commend and congratulate Kenyan voters, the staff of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, political party agents, candidates’ agents, the media and all security personnel for their commitment to the democratic process,” he concluded.

Mr Mahama actually added a caveat saying: “We are mindful that the process of collating the results is still on-going. I wish to reiterate my earlier call for leadership, and I therefore call upon all political party leaders and their supporters to show restraint and magnanimity as the results process continues to unfold.”

COURTS

But he argued the remedy lay in the courts, which Mr Odinga at the time had indicated he would not pursue.

However, the Nasa team later changed its mind and successfully convinced the Supreme Court to nullify the presidential election.

Sources have told Nation that other major Western observers have also chosen to only deploy observers in Nairobi.

But the European Union and the African Union are sending teams.

The EU had indicated it would send 110 observers but now says it will reduce the number to focus on specific aspects of the vote.

AU will retain its number of 80 observers.

On Tuesday, the EU observers announced they will scale back their team to focus on particular aspects of the vote.

“We have assessed the safety of our observers considering the extreme tension, disruptions of polling preparations, and strong criticism that has been made of the international community. Based on this, we have had to reconsider the extent to which we can observe across the country.

“The mission will have a reduced number of observers. Rather than giving a comprehensive assessment of election day and tallying, the mission will focus its observation on systemic issues, including results transmission and the availability of results forms.

“At the point when we have sufficient information on the process, we will present our findings for the consideration of Kenyan stakeholders,” the Mission said.

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