Kenya’s chaotic primaries: Jubilee annuls polls, reschedules

Jubilee point men Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto campaigning in March (Credit: Deputy President William Ruto/Twitter)

Kenya’s ruling coalition annulled party primaries held on Friday and rescheduled the voting for later this month, citing inadequate preparations for the high voter turnout. At stake are hundreds of MP races, county assembly seats and governorships.

Jubilee leader Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the incumbent president, apologised to party voters in a speech on Saturday at State House.

“To the millions of party faithful who turned out to vote, and to the thousands of party aspirants who turned out to compete for party tickets, we unreservedly apologise for our under-preparedness for the magnitude of the nominations exercise,” said Kenyatta.

The coalition had tried to hold primaries in 21 of the country’s 47 counties on Friday but unrest broke out in some areas over claims of interference and fraud. Angry voters even burned ballots in areas where candidates’ names were allegedly left off of the ballot. Delays at polling stations also fueled voter frustration and tensions.

Kenyatta blamed high turnout for the irregularities: “Yesterday was unprecedented for the Jubilee Party. While the party was prepared for a normal Party Primary, we were confronted by a full scale general election in terms of the sheer massive turnout we all witnessed.”

The president said that Jubilee wants to ensure the integrity of the polls and therefore took the decision to “cancel (and reschedule) the entire nominations exercise.”

On Thursday, the day before the primaries, Kenyatta had warned of the possibility of ‘hooliganism’ that could disrupt polling. “Our police force have been put at the disposal of all political parties to ensure security of all citizens and communities during this exercise,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“My Government is committed to enforcing the rule of law and ensuring the safety and security of all citizens and communities during these primaries and the general election in August. A culture of hooliganism during the electoral process must not and will not be allowed to gain currency and acceptance.”

More than 60,000 Jubilee party officials and staff had worked to prepare for Friday’s primaries. The new schedule has six Jubilee primaries in six counties on April 24th, 16 more primaries the following day, and 11 primaries on the 26th.

The opposition alliance, known as NASA, is also holding polls around the country this month but has staggered them over two weeks. It too is coping with unruly primary contests in Busia County, where a recount has been announced, in Malindi, and several other areas.

ODM, the largest party in the opposition coalition, held a primary in Malindi on Saturday, which was marred by “chaos, disruptions confusion and delays,” The Star newspaper reported. One member of parliament, Omar Mwinyi, was arrested Saturday for disrupting ODM polling.

Tensions are rising in Migori and Siaya counties as well ahead of primaries slated for Monday. ODM summoned key politicians from these areas in a bid to forestall violence.

Yesterday the Wiper Democratic Movement, another one of the NASA coalition members, announced a delay of its own primaries until April 25th, citing “logistical issues.”

Kenya is still haunted by violence that convulsed the country after a disputed presidential poll in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed. The more recent election of 2013 saw less violence but was marred by voter concerns of fraud after electronic tallying equipment failed.