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 8 August presidential
election. But Odinga disputed the results, claiming electoral
fraud. On 1 September 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 16
October but later postponed this to 26 October 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 8
August 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 8
August 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 check list 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 lead to the invalidation of the 8 August election do not
“All indications are that the elections on 26 October will be
worse than the previous one. On its part the Jubilee
administration has proposed amendments to the electoral laws
demonstrate that it has no intention of competing on a level
“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 6 October, saying it was deeply
concerned about the deterioration of the political environment
“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
Addressing party supporters later 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
peoples’ right to participate in an election to choose their
“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. “It could be about trying to push for a delay of the
election and further reforms, but it could also be about
political positioning ahead of the next election in 2022.
“In terms of the potential for violence, this depends on a
number of things including what kind of boycott is organised
and whether some elements seek to prevent any voting, counting
and tallying from taking place. If the election goes ahead
without Odinga then this will severely undermine the
Alphonce Shiundu, a Kenyan political journalist said he
believed Odinga was not bluffing but suggested that the IEBC,
if it was wise, would seek clarity from the Supreme Court on
whether or not to proceed with the election with only one
candidate, Kenyatta. It would be a bad decision if they chose
to proceed without Odinga in the race.
Shiundu said Odinga’s withdrawal definitely had the potential
to stoke violence. Although many in Kenyatta’s Jubilee were
publicly celebrating, Shiundu said in private many were
concerned that even if Kenyatta is sworn in after 26 October,
“that will foment an even bigger crisis, considering that his
election was annulled because of major irregularities and
illegalities in the voting process. Kenyatta himself appeared
upset at the news”.
Odinga’s decision would also be bad for business, especially
“They are worried that for the last nine months, it has been a
political atmosphere with the elections on everyone’s lips.
Then came August where everything shut down for the elections
and the fear of violence. Then there was a limbo after the 1
September ruling annulling the elections, and the ensuing
stand-off where the president abused the judiciary, and his
minions attacked individual judges; while the opposition began
its onslaught on the electoral commission, this just made the
economy slow down. The uncertainty had a cut-off date of 26
October, but right now, with that, it is indefinite.
“The question I hear people asking is ‘What next?’ I really
don’t know. The opinions, even from well-schooled lawyers,
depend on whether they support the president or Odinga. Only
the Supreme Court can clarify what happens next.”
Meanwhile the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said on
Tuesday that at least 37 people had been killed in the violence
that followed the announcement of the August election results.
It said many of these had been protesters killed by police.
Photo: A supporter of the opposition coalition The National
Super Alliance (NASA) and its presidential candidate Raila
Odinga stands on Odinga’s campaign vehicle as he joins others
to protest in Nairobi, Kenya, 6 October 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/DAI