BAGAKA: Raila should tell supporters poll can go either way

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Kenya’s 2017 election is shaping up to be an interesting and exciting race.

The two main candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, are engaged in an intense and passionate bid to secure the presidency when millions of voters cast their votes on the second Tuesday of August.

However, there is one element of the campaign which is both worrisome and troubling for all the Kenyans that hope that the election will go smoothly and there will be no return of the ugly scenes of violence that followed the 2007 elections.

Why does the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) spend so much energy attacking the institution that will preside over the election – the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)?

So ferocious have the assaults on the electoral commission been that someone landing in Kenya today from outside the country would imagine that the electoral contest is a battle between Nasa and the electoral commission rather than one between the opposition and the ruling Jubilee party.

As is their legal right, Nasa have mounted numerous legal challenges to the IEBC’s preparation process.

They tried to stop the audit of the vote register, the procurement of an electronic system to run the vote and, finally, they are now in court trying to block the printing of ballot papers.

These consistent hurdles placed in the path of poll preparations raise legitimate questions as to whether the opposition, in fact, wants the election to go ahead as scheduled.

More troubling have been the verbal missiles aimed at the electoral commission by the opposition leaders, particularly Raila Odinga.

The message from the opposition leader is simple. He has told his supporters that there is a plot to rig him out during the elections.

His social media teams have launched daily assaults on the integrity of the electoral process.

This messaging is dangerous because it primes Odinga’s supporters to believe a fallacy: That the opposition can only lose the election if it is rigged out. This could then lay the grounds for a violent uprising in the event Odinga loses.

There are two important elements the opposition needs to internalise.

The first is that it is abundantly possible for it, like it did in 2013, to lose the election fair and square.

The second is that no electoral process is perfect and the hysteria over “dead voters” is simply disingenuous posturing.

Let’s start with the dead voters issue. Is there any country on earth that does not have deceased voters on the roll? Of course not.

People die every day. And in most countries, there is no direct link between the voters roll and the population register.

Take, as an example, the voter register in the United States.

A 2012 study by the non-partisan Pew Research Centre found that there were more than 1.8 million dead people registered to vote.

In total, it found that 24 million voter registrations were invalid or inaccurate.

Does that mean, extending Nasa’s logic, that American elections are rigged?

Kenya has taken the important step of producing an extra safeguard of electronically identifying voters.

Even if there is reversion to the manual register, there must be identification cards produced and party agents and monitors will be allowed at all polling stations.

What, then, is the basis for Nasa’s vote rigging claims and hysterical attacks on the electoral commission?

The other point is easier to prove. Yes. Of course Nasa can lose the election fair and square just in the same way that Odinga lost in 2013.

The registration figures have not changed substantially since that election.

Although the opposition is now united, Kenyatta has an easier path to 50 per cent plus one simply by holding on to the votes he secured at the last election.

The stories Odinga has fed his supporters – most potently that two million people voted only for president and not for the other positions – have since been debunked, including by the Nation’s own investigative team.

It’s a tight contest, it is true, but Kenyatta can still easily win fair and square.

Dr Obuya Bagaka is a public administration scholar at the Kenya School of Government.

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