Kenya election prompts accusation of UK ‘meddling’

Charity Ngilu: 'Shadowy behaviour ' from UK mandarin. Picture: AP
Charity Ngilu: 'Shadowy behaviour ' from UK mandarin. Picture: AP
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Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya was yesterday accused of “shadowy, suspicious” meddling in the country’s elections, as questions were asked about the “abnormally high influx” of British troops.

Christian Turner, Britain’s envoy to its former colony, was “canvassing... to deny outright victory” to the coalition led by Uhuru Kenyatta, one of the leading presidential candidates, his Jubilee Alliance said.

“We are deeply concerned about the shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner… in Kenya’s election,” said Charity Ngilu, Mr Kenyatta’s coalition partner.

Mr Turner, a senior civil servant, who works closely with Foreign Secretary William Hague, was campaigning with anti- Kenyatta activists to demand that ballot papers rejected in the vote count be added to the total, Mrs Ngilu alleged.

The number of rejected ballots is becoming crucial to Kenya’s poll result, and technical arguments on whether they should be included in final tallies is consuming the increasingly chaotic count process.

Electoral officials were forced to abandon their existing tally of more than five million votes when an expensive new computer system failed.

The count was yesterday re-started manually, again delaying the expected result to Friday.

Mr Turner immediately rejected the allegations to his 8,500 Twitter followers.

“Claims of British interference, including by the High Commission, in the electoral process are entirely false and misleading,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

“The UK does not have a position on the question of how to handle the rejected votes. That is for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and if necessary Kenyan courts, to determine.

“We urge all sides to ensure calm, avoid inflammatory statements, and to take any disputes to the courts.”

Mrs Ngilu, who lost her parliamentary contest in the elections, demanded that Mr Turner explain what she called the “alarming” and “abnormally high influx of British military personnel in the country, which began around voting day”.

More than 10,000 British troops pass through northern Kenya annually for final training ahead of deployment to Afghanistan. Two battlegroups are currently in the country as one completes its exercises and the second arrives.

The troops were in Kenya as part of the regular training programme, agreed with the country’s defence ministry.

The Foreign Office spokesman added: “This routine exercise is completely unrelated to the Kenyan elections, and was planned nine months ago.”

Kenya is under intense international scrutiny for this election, following an allegedly rigged ballot in 2007 that sparked six weeks of violence when Mr Kibaki, an ally of Mr Kenyatta, was sworn in.

The failure of the electronic vote tallying system raised fears that opportunities to tamper with the count would rise. But the electoral commission stressed confidence.

“The delay is giving rise to conspiracy theories. People are panicking about the delay in the results of the elections. But unlike last election there is a level of restraint,” said Kevin Muriunge, a 25-year-old student.

Referring to long voting lines during Monday’s vote, Alojz Peterle, a former president of Slovenia and the chief observer in the European Union observer mission, said that Kenyans have demonstrated they are capable of great patience.

“But even more patience is called for now,” he said.

Before the electronic system failed, Mr Kenyatta led Prime Minister Raila Odinga by 53 per cent of votes to 42 per cent.

Including the rejected ballots in the count would, however, pull Mr Kenyatta’s total below the 50 per cent.