IRI Delegation Praises Kenyan People for Successful Election, Urges Continued Acceptance of the Democratic Process

Nairobi, Kenya – Kenya’s December 27, 2007, presidential, parliamentary and local elections were an extremely important milestone in the evolution of Kenyan democracy.  IRI’s delegation commends the people of Kenya for the peaceful manner in which Election Day was carried out. However, voting is only one part of the process.  The vote count and the acceptance of the results by the people are equally important.

The delegation in particular was impressed with the depth of dedication on the part of Kenyan voters. Thousands stood patiently in line for hours to exercise their civic rights and participate in the political process, often expressing how important these elections were to them and their families.

Kenyans can be proud of the way in which they upheld the principles of democracy in this important election. At the polling stations observed by IRI’s teams, the process appeared open, and political party agents, domestic observers and international observers had the opportunity to witness the opening of the polls, voting and ballot counting.  Election officials explained the process and rationale for their decisions on specific matters.  Because of this, IRI’s delegation commends the efforts of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and its thousands of poll workers, many of whom demonstrated initiative in ensuring the enfranchisement of voters in determining their leaders.

At the same time, there are areas which deserve redress in order to strengthen the current body of election law and regulations and further build confidence in the system.  As happens in many elections around the world, the ECK must address the issue of polling stations opening late, voting materials being delivered in a timely manner and appropriately providing assistance to voters.

The organization of polling stations within a polling center was properly conceived but poorly executed. Voters and election officials struggled with matching new polling station assignments with old voter identification cards.  The process by which voters verified their registration at the polls was often slow and confusing, thus causing tension.  Though the redundancy of a manually maintained ledger has merit, better correlation between the voter rolls, voter documents and voter education should be addressed before the next election.

The new infrastructure of polling centers also precipitated the need for a greater supervisory role to oversee operational aspects of a polling center’s activities. The organizational structure within the polling center did not provide for decision makers to address problems among the presiding officers.

The voter registration list was not organized by individual polling station, rather by the entire polling center.  As a result, a presiding officer could not say how many registered voters should be entitled to cast ballots in his or her station which could have led to vulnerability in the process.  The number of ballots delivered to each polling station should have corresponded with the number of registered voters for that polling station.  However, IRI does not have evidence that that was the case.  Though no polling station observed ran out of ballots for any of the three races being contested, the voter rolls must be organized at the most basic electoral unit to encourage better transparency in the process.

During the six months leading up to the election, campaigns were characterized by a high level of public awareness and participation.  There were a large number of candidates and parties, reflecting a great demand for opportunities to participate in the democratic process.  At the same time, it must be noted that over these months there were incidents of violence, specifically attacks on candidates and campaigners, especially women, and clashes between groups motivated by or related to political tension and competition.  These incidents of violence – particularly unfortunate given the obvious passion for democracy in Kenya – contributed to a pre-election level of anxiety and concern about the polling itself, that could have but did not dampen participation.

Kenya continues to move forward on its democratic path.  As the country moves into the final phase of the election, IRI’s delegation encourages the people to continue to respect the process and accept the final decision.  Following a certification of results, IRI will issue a comprehensive report which will include conclusions and recommendations.

IRI observers monitored voting at more than 100 polling stations in all eight of Kenya’s provinces and Nairobi.

IRI’s delegation was led by Constance Berry Newman, IRI board member and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  Other delegates are Hussein Ahmed Aideed, Member of the Executive Committee of Somaliland’s Party for Unity and Development and Member of the National Registration Committee; Joel Barkan, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Iowa; Omer Jama Farah, Member of the Executive Committee and Political Officer of Somaliland’s Union Democratic Party and a Member of the National Registration Committee; Irena Hadžiabdic, Member of Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Maureen Harrington, former IRI Program Manager for Southern Africa; Abdillahi Said Ismail, Member of the Executive Committee of Somaliland’s Justice and Welfare Party and a Member of the National Registrarion Committee; Anne Itto, Deputy Secretary General for the Southern Sector of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Party (SPLM); Simon Kun, Member of the Interim Political National Bureau of the SPLM and head of the South Sudan Humanitarian Relief Commission; Sylvestre Somo Mwaka, human rights activist and assistant to the President of the Independent Electoral Commission in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Ronald Nehring, Chairman of the California Republican Party; Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn, former U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti; Brad Smith, Chief of Staff to Congressman David Dreier; and Bushara Hussan El Tali, Deputy Secretary for Training and Capacity Building of the Sudanese Liberation Movement.

IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission.  IRI staff were led by Elizabeth Dugan, Vice President for Programs; and Stephanie Blanton, Regional Director for Africa.

In Kenya, IRI works with political activists to help them develop campaign agendas that address voters’ concerns.  IRI works with Kenyan media outlets on how to interpret and report on opinion research data.

IRI has monitored more than 130 elections since 1983.

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