Raila: I’ll concede defeat if I lose in free, fair elections

Raila Odinga

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses a rally in Meru County on March 10, 2022.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • ODM leader Raila Odinga is on tour in London, but it is the August 9 polls that are pre-occupying his mind.
  • He is afraid that the IEBC may not be ready to conduct the elections, just like was the case in 2007, 2013 and 2017. 

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) must do more to assure Kenyans of a free and fair general election on August 9, ODM leader and Azimio La Umoja presidential flag-bearer Raila Odinga has said.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Nation from the United Kingdom on Friday, Mr Odinga says he is worried about the last-minute filling of key positions in the IEBC secretariat, which he says does not give Kenyans enough time to assess their competence to handle the polls.

Mr Odinga is also concerned about the commission’s preparedness to conduct the August 9 polls.

“You need to understand that IEBC only appointed its chief executive officer last week, same to the deputy CEO and important heads of various departments. So, it is too soon to say whether or not one has confidence in it. That is why I am talking about a work in progress,” Mr Odinga said.

“If it was already an existing situation with all the commissioners and the secretariat fully in place, then that would be a different case. But what I am saying is that the IEBC needs to cultivate confidence and give us hope that everything is going to be free and fair.”

The four-time presidential contender, who is hoping to be fifth-time lucky in less than five months’ time, however, says he is ready to concede defeat and congratulate the winner “in the unlikely event that I lose”.

Deputy President William Ruto has been pushing Mr Odinga to publicly state that he will accept the outcome of the election, citing previous electoral disputes that have plunged the country into chaos and bloodshed.

“If the elections are free, fair, transparent and verifiable, then I see no reason why somebody should not concede defeat and congratulate the winner. It happened in 1997. At the time, I conceded that we had lost the election and we would try another time. I see no reason why, if elections are free and fair, I should not congratulate the winner in the unlikely event that I lose the elections,” said Mr Odinga.

With little over four months to the general election, the former prime minister says the IEBC must start a serious engagement with political parties.

“I have said that we want the electoral commission to help us build confidence and we have asked the commission’s chairman [Wafula Chebukati] to open up dialogue with the stakeholders, which are political parties, as we move forward. This way, stakeholders can audit every aspect of this electoral process.”

Disputed 2007 election

Kenya has witnessed deadly pre- and post-election violence on different scales since the return to multi-partyism in 1992. The disputed 2007 election, in which Mr Odinga was on the losing side, has been the deadliest. In 2013 and 2017, the matters ended up in court for resolution.

In March 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta reached out to Mr Odinga in the political rapprochement now dubbed as “handshake” that they said was aimed at ending the cycle of electoral violence that is usually based on ethnic configurations.

The ODM leader says the Azimio la Umoja alliance is intended to heal political rifts in the country, but that does not mean there should be no opposition parties. Mr Odinga, in the interview, ruled out the possibility of a post-election ‘handshake’ with DP Ruto after the August polls. 

“The country can be united despite the fact that there are differing political views. That is what democracy is all about. This is what we would like to see happen in our country and we will, as Azimio la Umoja, be in government. But those who are not going to be in government, whether they call themselves Kenya Kwanza or whatever the name is, will have a role to play in deepening and strengthening our democracy,” he said.

The IEBC on Wednesday got a substantive CEO when Hussein Marjan was sworn into office. The agency has been without a chief executive since April 2018 when the former head of secretariat, Ezra Chiloba, was initially suspended before being dismissed. 

Mr Marjan, who held the position in an acting capacity for nearly four years, was substantively appointed on March 9 and was sworn in by Chief Justice Martha Koome four days ago. At the same time, the commission appointed Ruth Kulundu as deputy CEO, and Chrispine Owiye and Michael Ouma as directors of Legal and Public Affairs, and ICT respectively. All the new appointees were sourced internally.

Besides the late appointments, Mr Odinga is worried that preparedness for the August polls remains an issue of concern because of underfunding of the commission, legal disputes and proposed amendments to the Elections Act, which are still before Parliament.

The IEBC has also been dogged by procurement of electoral materials, which was one of the main debacles it faced in the run-up to the 2017 General Election when it was accused of having gone flat out to award contracts to some pre-determined firms, against all legal and regulatory requirements. 

In some cases, the commission bought some items at three times the market rate, even as it paid for materials that were delivered long after the 2017 election.

In an interview after he was sworn into office, Mr Marjan said the commission “is better placed than any other time” to manage the August polls. “We went through a difficult time in 2017 and we picked valuable lessons. We have decided to carry out early procurement to avoid the challenges of the past,” said Mr Marjan.

Ballot printing tender

The IEBC has awarded the tender for the supply of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) kits to a Dutch firm, Smartmatic, while the ballot printing tender was awarded to a Greek firm, Inform P Lykos Holdings. 

Both awards have, however, been challenged in the High Court by disgruntled suppliers who lost out at the evaluation stage. The tender to print ballot papers, in which Inform P Lykos Holdings had been picked from a pool of 12 firms, is being fought at the Court of Appeal.

The three-year tender would also see the firm supply ballot papers and election statutory forms to be used at the constituency, county, and the national tallying centre. On the other hand, Risk Africa Innovatis Limited is challenging the award of the Kiems tender to Smartmatic, arguing that the data migration was not budgeted for at the time the tender was floated. Further, the firm claims the procurement was not done by a fully constituted commission.

“The two processes were above board,” Mr Marjan said. “The case is in court, but the litigants were not granted orders stopping us from doing what we were supposed to do. We have awarded the contracts and we are going on with what we are expected of us.”

Besides the court challenge, the award of Kiems tender to Smartmatic has also been hit by another concern after the former contractor, French firm Idemia (previously Morpho), reportedly refused to hand over the voter database, claiming the commission has yet to pay all its dues. 

The firm had refused to hand over the software development kit (SDK), which is like a password to the voter data, to the IEBC and the new contractor, Smartmatic, meaning the IEBC could not access the register or add to the register the recently listed voters.

The issue had left the IEBC in an awkward situation, forcing the commission to escalate the issue to the government. Two Cabinet secretaries, the IEBC and the French Embassy were brought on board to try to hammer out a deal.

Meanwhile, budget shortages still linger, with just over four months to the polls. The commission has yet to receive the Sh4.7 billion it had requested Parliament to bridge the shortfall. Parliament has yet to consider the supplementary budget, as the National Assembly has been in recess.

Part of the funds will be used to upgrade Kiems, the technology used to transmit results; cater for election materials; ensure Covid-19 compliance on the polling day, voter education and information, communication and technology systems.

Consolidating voter register

The figure is over and above the Sh8.8 billion the Treasury is proposing in the first supplementary budget currently before Parliament.

The commission had requested Sh40.085 billion in this financial year for preparations, but the National Treasury allocated Sh33.01 billion, which was spread over two financial years; the commission received Sh14.5 billion in 2021/22 and the balance of Sh18.8 billion was staggered into the next financial year (2022/23).

Out of the figure, Sh1.77 billion will cater for the budget for election materials; another Sh588 million will take care of the Covid-19 compliance during voting; voter education will gobble Sh197 million; while ICT systems is budgeted at Sh2.18 billion.

In the request, Mr Marjan wants the Sh4.7 billion front loaded from the 2022/23 allocation under the strategic intervention and brought forward to cater for some expense planned for this financial year.

The budget for ICT systems will include an audit of the election technology, expansion of wide areas network to 30 county offices and developing a collaboration framework with mobile network service providers for results transmission. The funds will also be used to upgrade the biometric voter registration database and hardware to accommodate more than 20 million voters.

Meanwhile, the commission says it is consolidating the voter register. But an audit of the register, which ought to be in its final stages now, has yet to start. So is the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which is seeking to address ICT issues with regard to transmission of presidential results and collation, announcement and declaration of results from polling stations to the tallying centres.

The Bill is amending Section 44 of the Act that deals with complementary mechanism for identification of voters as was ordered by the Supreme Court, when it nullified the 2017 presidential vote.

While the commission has welcomed the Bill, because it will give it the authority to make regulations on the use of these complementary mechanism as deemed appropriate, there are concerns that the changes are coming in too late and could affect the electoral process.