By David Ohito

More details have emerged about the controversial exit poll on last year’s General Election that was conducted by an American organisation — the alleged role of US Ambassador Michael Rannerberger and an ODM delegation visit to the US to seek the release of the poll.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) exit poll was not released until later in the year, triggering a controversy in some US media on why it was delayed.

In the exit poll, voters were asked whom they had voted for immediately they left polling stations on Election Day.

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The poll showed that ODM’s Raila Odinga had beaten President Kibaki by an eight-point margin. But in the election results proper, President Kibaki beat Raila by a two-point margin. IRI used local pollster Strategic Public Relations and Research.

The Nation, a US newspaper in New York, has queried the role of US government officials in the election and singled out the role of Mr Ken Flottman, who was IRI country director.

An article by Karen Rothmyer claims that Flottman sat on the exit poll when Kenyans needed it most. Mr Ranneberger, who has lately turned into a harsh critic of the Government, is accused of playing a "leaning role" in Kibaki’s re-lection.

Even as ODM disputed the election results and entered talks with PNU, it sent a team to Washington to press for the release of the exit poll.

Raila’s former spokesman Salim Lone yesterday disclosed that an ODM team was sent to the US in February at the height of chaos to plead with IRI to release the exit poll.

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"Pentagon member Joe Nyaga and myself visited the US to brief Congressional leaders and the Bush administration officials over the election and international mediation," Mr Lone said in a statement.

He went on: "In a briefing with US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, we repeatedly raised the issue of the IRI poll. We felt its release would have been beneficial. But they said only IRI could decide what it should do," Lone said.

He went on: "In our meeting with IRI officials, VP Elizabeth Dugen trashed the exit poll as well as the methodology. But we expressed our incredulity over this, since qualified pollsters had prepared the methodology, and IRI had long experience with such polls."

The Nation story says in the lead up to the vote, the US Embassy conveyed the impression that it believed Kibaki would win.

Flottman says: "As time went on, some of the polling we were doing showed it was more complicated, but I got the sense that the embassy wasn’t interested in hearing it. The embassy saw the top line of GDP growth, but didn’t see that nothing was really changing for most Kenyans."

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At times, according to Flottman, Ranneberger appeared to try to help Kibaki’s chances. In one case, he says, when a poll done by a local leading pollster showed Raila pulling ahead, Ranneberger "was keen to release our poll, which showed Kibaki was more popular". Flottman declined.

Denied allegations

Yesterday, Ranneberger categorically denied involvement in influencing the presidential polls: "That is utterly nonsense. It is speculation and innuendo against me. There is absolutely no truth in the matter."

In Washington, IRI’s top officials refused to release the poll, saying they had serious doubts about its validity. Flottman says he kept pressing for an answer.

"I was eventually told that it wasn’t in the best interest of IRI," he says.

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The fresh accusations came as IRI officials flew to Nairobi to meet Raila and plead with him to write a letter giving them a clean bill of health to salvage the institution’s credibility.

Yesterday, Raila confirmed he met the IRI team in Nairobi, but had reservations over their handling of last year’s opinion polls. He did not issue the letter.

"I met IRI officials, but I clearly stated my reservations over their exit polls," Raila said in a statement sent by Mr Dennis Onyango, the Director of Communications in the Prime Minister’s office.

The Nation article says Ranneberger was given the exit poll results on the evening of election day, December 27, three days before the announcement that Kibaki had won touched off weeks of rioting in which more than 1,000 Kenyans died and as many as 350,000 were displaced from their homes.

It says Ranneberger told the Washington Post on December 31 that "the US would accept" that Kibaki had won.

The State Department congratulated him, but retracted after the European Union raised concerns about election rigging.

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