NAIROBI, Kenya — An American election observer group led by former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that Kenya's March 4 presidential election suffered serious technological shortcomings and that election officials at times prevented observers from carrying out their mission, but it said the election's paper trail preserved the will of Kenyan voters.
The Carter Center said the initial release by Kenya's election commission of inaccurate vote figures challenged voter confidence in the commission. It also said a lack of transparency in the national count marred the vote.
The commission named Uhuru Kenyatta the winner with 50.07 percent of the vote. The result was challenged by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and civil society groups but upheld by the Supreme Court.
Kenyatta is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges related to the deadly violence Kenya saw after its 2007 election. Those charges have threatened to cool Kenya's relations with the West.
However, the United States Embassy says its ambassador will attend Kenyatta's swearing-in next week. Britain, Kenya's other major Western partner, has not yet announced if its high commissioner will attend. Kenyatta's team accused Britain's top representative in Kenya of meddling in election matters, straining the countries' relations.
The Carter Center congratulated the people of Kenya on keeping peace in spite of long lines on election day, the release of inaccurate early electronic results and being provided with uneven turnout figures from vote tallies. The center said that the election commission, known as the IEBC, confined party representatives and election observers to the sidelines at the national counting center, "making effective observation impossible."
"In the absence of access to compiled documents and to IEBC personnel, the national tally of the presidential results forms was effectively rendered non-transparent for stakeholders and observers," the Carter Center said.
Government officials and civil groups tried to ensure violence did not break out en masse during this election, as it did in 2007-08, when more than 1,000 people were killed. Five people died in violence after the Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta's win but most of the country remained peaceful.
The Carter Center called it "worrying" that the number of registered voters announced by the electoral commission changed in the last weeks of the voting process. A variation of 100,000 registered voters suggested that data had changed with no explanation from the electoral board and no opportunity for public scrutiny.
The Carter Center, echoing complaints by Odinga and the civil society groups, said it regretted that the election commission was unwilling to publish results by polling station. The IEBC has said it carried out a free and fair election but it was not able to explain all of the voter number discrepancies before the Supreme Court.
Gladwell Otieno, the executive director of the Africa Center for Open Governance, which challenged the election results at the Supreme Court, said the Carter Center's findings – a mixture of positive and negative observations – is the result of a difficult balancing act for observers, given that Odinga accepted the court's decision to uphold Kenyatta's win.
"The flaws in the process were so manifest it wouldn't be credible if they didn't recognize them," she said. "As civil society we have to be grateful that the IEBC is being put on the spot because that has to happen. At the same time I don't see how they could describe the manual tallying as acceptable or credible."
Gladwell noted that the judiciary's own report from the registrar of the Supreme Court lists one Kenyan voting region – Laikipia West, with 70,760 votes – as being unable to verify votes cast. Kenyatta secured his majority election win by only 8,400 votes out of more than 12.3 million cast. Field reports for Gladwell's organization indicated that many constituencies saw turnout over 100 percent.
"We feel that the IEBC has to answer for its conduct and its use of public money," Otieno said. "We think the IEBC really, really let Kenyans down and we can't just sweep this under the carpet. We have another election in five short years."