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Chaos At Dock Workers Elections

By Benson Abele, The Nation (Nairobi), 23 June 2001

The dockworkers elections went ahead yesterday amid mounting tension and accusations of ballot rigging, intimidation and harassment.

One presiding officer was arrested after a candidate's agent claimed he had been seen stuffing ballot papers in his pockets.

However he was released after questioning and when a search failed to find any of the papers.

The returning officer, Mr J.Yidah, then threatened to disqualify the candidate - Mr Stewart Madzayo - whose agent had reported the presiding officer to police.

Mr Yidah complained that his officials from the district labour office were being intimidated and harassed.

He said the issue was not correctly handled. "The right way of handling this was for me to be informed, but it is wrong for an agent to call the police to arrest my people without telling me why," he said.

Mr Yidah was joined by a group of his officials as they took Mr Madzayo to task over the accusations.

"I am trying my best to see that these elections are free and fair, but you people want to spoil it yourselves", he said.

Earlier there was confusion and protests as nearly 4,000 workers went to the polls.

Voting was scheduled to start at 6am but it was delayed for almost four hours in some stations due to logistical problems and heavy rains which pounded Mombasa.

Hundreds of members were turned away after they failed to show their union cards which they were supposed to pick up from the time office on reporting for duty.

Owing to uncertainty over which month's pay-slips were to be used, the candidates agreed that only the membership cards should be used for voting instead of the pay-slips, as was agreed earlier.

At the container terminal, hundreds of workers refused to vote after they claimed that the returning officers had brought the June payroll instead of the one for May. But voting resumed an hour later after they were told the correct roll had been brought.

Coast provincial labour officer MrYidah who is also the returning officer, explained that the payrolls were those of May but had been printed on June 1, leading to the confusion.

Former Changamwe MP Kennedy Kiliku appeared to be the front-runner for the post of Secretary General in the early stages of the voting although High Court advocate Stewart Madzayo appeared to be giving him a stiff challenge.

Others in the running are former Kenya Ports Authority public relations officer Mrs Shuwekha Rashid and incumbent Secretary General Juma Khamis.

At the Kipevu polling station, agents engaged the election officials in a bitter arguments after they disagreed over their positioning.

Mr Madzayo complained that the elections were not being conducted in a free atmosphere since most of the things agreed on during joint meetings had not been adhered to.

Mr Kiliku said that although some loop-holes had been discovered in the earlier stages of the voting, most of them had been sealed on time. He named the pay slips as one example. Most of the workers interviewed said that they should be left to choose their leaders without outside interference.

However, there were no signs of interference by either the Government or the KPA management as workers lined up in long queues to cast their votes.

"We are happy to note that for the first time in the history of dock workers' elections there is no interference from the management or the Government," said one of the voters.

The voting was expected to continue until 6pm when the ballot boxes were to be taken to the conference room at Kipevu headquarters for counting.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).