Odinga’s withdrawal risks violence in Kenya

Peter Fabricius Correspondent
Kenya’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s decision to withdraw from a contest which he said would not be free and fair leaves President Uhuru Kenyatta as the only candidate. The decision has sparked renewed fears of violence, especially after Odinga’s coalition NASA called for street protests on Wednesday against Kenyatta’s rejection of demands for reforms to the electoral system.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Kenyatta the winner of the August 8 presidential election. But Odinga disputed the results, claiming electoral fraud. On September 1, the Supreme Court annulled the presidential election, citing “illegalities and irregularities” in the IEBC’s tallying of votes and transmission of results.

The IEBC then announced a new election would be held on October 16, but later postponed this to October 26 to allow more time for preparation. Odinga has been engaged in a running dispute with Kenyatta and the IEBC since then, demanding the firing of several IEBC officials allegedly complicit in the mishandling of the August 8 poll and also insisting on changes to election procedures.

He also wants a different company to print the ballots this time, suspecting the company which printed the August 8 election ballots was in cahoots with Kenyatta’s party. And he objects to the intention of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party to ram through amendments to the electoral laws before the poll. He suspects these changes are designed to help mask electoral fraud, closing loopholes which were exposed in the August poll. Another proposed amendment would automatically grant victory to the other candidate if one candidate boycotted an election — which now seems likely to happen.

Announcing at a Press conference in Nairobi on Tuesday that he and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka had decided to pull out of the re-run, Odinga said NASA had provided a checklist of the minimum changes to the IEBC that would be necessary to ensure the election was free and fair and conformed to the constitution and the law, as the Supreme Court had ordered when it annulled the August poll. But the government and the IEBC had insisted the poll should go ahead without these reforms as there was not enough time left to make them, Odinga said.

“We have come to the conclusion that there is no intention on the part of the IEBC to make any changes to its operations or personnel to ensure that the illegalities and irregularities that led to the invalidation of the August 8 election do not happen again. All indications are that the elections on October 26 will be worse than the previous one. On its part, the Jubilee administration has proposed amendments to the electoral laws, demonstrating that it has no intention of competing on a level playing field. We will not allow autocracy back into Kenya,” he declared, berating the international community which had once supported Kenyans in their quest for democracy and good governance, for now taking the side of “ a dictatorship in the mistaken belief that it will provide stability”.

This may have been a reference to the US State Department, which had issued a statement on October 6, saying it was deeply concerned about the deterioration of the political environment in Kenya.

“Unfortunately, in recent weeks actors on all sides have undermined the electoral commission and stoked tensions,” it continued, saying that a peaceful and transparent poll required the electoral commission to have the independence and support it needed to fulfil its constitutional and legal obligations, rather than “baseless attacks and unreasonable demands”. And then, apparently switching its attack to Kenyatta’s government, the US added: “Changing electoral laws without broad agreement just prior to a poll is not consistent with international best practice, increases political tension and undermines public perceptions of the integrity of the electoral process.” Addressing party supporters on Tuesday, Kenyatta vowed to go ahead with the elections without Odinga.

“It is Raila Odinga’s democratic right not to participate. It is also the people’s right to participate in an election to choose their leader. So whether you are there or not, we are proceeding to the people who have the sovereign right to elect the leader of their choice. And no one individual can stand in the path of the progress of 45-million Kenyans.”

Gabrielle Lynch, a political scientist at the UK’s University of Warwick said she thought Odinga’s move was “understandable, given NASA’s concerns about heading into another election with the same IEBC and electoral procedures in place”. Odinga’s aim was, however, more difficult to second guess.

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