Kenya Poll: Decision to withdraw from repeat elections could stoke violence


    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
    happen again.

    “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
    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 6 October, 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

    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
    government’s credibility.”

    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
    small traders.

    “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