Kenya's Odinga says technology failures led to vote fraud

Reuters News

3/27/2013 1:12:28 PM - Reuters News

By James Macharia

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Lawyers challenging Uhuru Kenyatta's victory in the Kenyan presidential election said on Wednesday new technology meant to counter fraud had broken down, leading to a manipulated vote count.

Losing candidate Raila Odinga is contesting the result in court and both sides have agreed to accept the outcome.

A disputed vote five years ago ignited tribal violence that dented Kenya's reputation as a stable democracy but the presidential election on March 4 took place without bloodshed.

Lawyers for Odinga told the Supreme Court that the failure of an electronic system to transmit numbers from polling stations to a tallying center and the breakdown of other equipment had undermined the chances of a transparent vote.

"The voting system was prone to manipulation in the absence of electronic voter identification," said Odinga's lead counsel, George Oraro. "Tallying was manipulated to achieve certain results."

The record 86 percent voter turnout was also suspect, he said, likening it to an election in a communist state.

The electoral commission has said its computer servers were overwhelmed and that it resorted to manual transmission of tallied ballots.

The official result was always going to depend on the manual tally, it says. The electronic system was designed to give a swift provisional result and avert the prospect of violence.

The commission has rejected claims of fraud and declared the vote free and fair. Its lawyers are expected to rebutt Odinga's charges on Thursday, the final day of hearings.

Also at Wednesday's hearing, a lawyer for civil organizations sought to annul the result on the grounds of fraud after the electronic system failed.

"The people who altered those results must be arrested and prosecuted in the most public manner possible," Kethi Kilonzo said.

NO VIOLENCE SO FAR

Saturday is the deadline for the court to announce its ruling on whether to uphold Kenyatta's win or order another vote.

Both candidates have promised to accept the decision and many Kenyans insist there will be no repeat of the bloodshed that followed the 2007 election which left more than 1,200 dead.

Western nations are concerned about the fate of a country with which they have strong business ties and count as an ally in a regional struggle against militant Islam.

The U.S. Embassy has warned Americans in Kenya to be on guard for possible unrest this weekend. Police have banned rallies and demonstrations to avoid violence - a move rights groups have criticized as a violation of Kenyans' freedoms.

Odinga alleges "rampant illegality" in the first-round vote.

Kenyatta, who is charged by International Criminal Court in the Hague with crimes against humanity over the previous post-election violence, says the voting was fair.

Western nations have said a Kenyatta victory would complicate relations because of those charges, which he denies.

His aides said the president-elect, the son of the country's founding president, was at a resort in the Rift Valley consulting with allies on the composition of a new cabinet and other positions if he wins the court battle.

Should Odinga win his challenge, it would mean a new election that would further unnerve markets.

(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo and Richard Lough; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Angus MacSwan)