Monday, February 2, 2009

Withholding Poll Results, Motives of U.S.-Funded Institute are Still Questioned

Voting that is strongly marked by tribalism? An explosion of bloodshed? And ballot-counting fraud? This is definitely a recent highly-contested African presidential race - and we're not talking about Zimbabwe.

But what about political meddling to help steer the outcome of the 2007 Kenyan Presidential election that came from--the United States?

That's what a recent New York Times investigation seems to claim.  The USAID-funded pro-democracy International Republican Institute conducted exit polls for the December 2007 election, but refused to release the results (saying that the results were technically flawed) even as partisan bickering turned into a mini civil war, leaving over 1,000 people dead, and a country still bitterly divided over a year later.  

The results were eventually released nine months later, and showed that opposition candidate Raila Odinga had led the incumbent Mwai Kibaki.  However, back in December 2007, Kibaki was named President (even though outside agencies reported numerous voting innacuracies).  Opposition leader Odinga now holds the new post of Prime Minister after a power-sharing agreement was brokered in February 2008.

However, the NYT consulted numerous outside experts who have found no basis for the organization's initial rationale for not releasing the results--that it was technically flawed.  Some have even suggested that events might have played out differently if the IRI's poll results were released in a timely manner.

The IRI released the results in August 2008 after consulting its own outside experts.  The results, as predicted, showed that Odinga was winning over the incumbent Kibaki by 6 percent of the vote.  To those interviewed for the article, the role of politics seems to be the only explanation for the institute's initial refusal to release the results:
None of those interviewed professed to know why the institute withheld the results.  But the decision was consistent with other American actions that seemed focused on preserving stability in Kenya, rather than determining the actual winner.
The IRI has posted an especially sharp-tongued rebuttal to the NYT piece, explaining that, in fact, the institute has worked with Odinga for over 20 years and that, "What IRI was not going to do was release a flawed poll" that would function only to help Odinga get elected.  

The response does seem defensive, but the IRI has requested that the State Department's Inspector General review "whether the Institute withheld the poll at the behest of U.S. government officials as charged by The New York Times."  This may not be CIA-type international spy intrigue, but the possibility of the U.S. government meddling in another country's presidential election always makes my ears perk up.

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