Opposition leader makes surprise announcement prior to new supreme court-ordered presidential vote
Kenya’s opposition has said it will boycott a presidential election rerun that is due in less than two weeks, throwing the east African state into a full-blown political crisis.
The new poll was ordered by the country’s supreme court after the opposition challenged the results of elections in August, which gave the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, a second presidential term by nine percentage points.
Raila Odinga, the leader of the National Super Alliance (NASA), told reporters in Nairobi on Tuesday that there was no prospect of a credible election and that he was therefore forced to withdraw from the new poll, set for 26 October.
Odinga’s move comes after a series of opposition protests were aimed at forcing the government into concessions. On Monday, police dispersed an opposition demonstration in Nairobi with teargas.
“We are now looking at a period of prolonged crisis … a very ugly standoff, which will see increasing protests from the opposition that are likely to be met by a brutal response from the police,” said Murithi Mutiga, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi.
Among the reforms Odinga had demanded were the replacement of suppliers of equipment used to transmit election results and the replacement of electoral officials the opposition claimed were complicit in electoral fraud.
The threatened boycott risks serious consequences for east Africa’s biggest economy, which has already been hit by the ongoing political turmoil, and will also raise fears of violence. More than 30 people died in protests after the August poll, many shot by police.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Odinga said his party had “come to the conclusion that there is no intention on the part of the [electoral commission] to undertake any changes to its operations and personnel to ensure that the illegalities and irregularities that led to the invalidation of 8 August do not happen again.”
“All indications are that the election scheduled for 26 October will be worse than the previous one,” the 72-year-old politician said.
The August poll was annulled by judges concerned by procedural failures and a lack of transparency, which they said rendered the result invalid.
Odinga, who has been defeated in two previous runs for president, called on supporters to protest on Wednesday, using the slogan “no reform, no elections”.
A series of election observers and western officials called on the losers in the August polls to accept defeat, and said they had found no evidence of “centralised manipulation”.
But opposition officials described the election results as a fraud and claimed that Odinga was the legitimate winner.
Odinga claimed the electronic voting results were hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. Judges voted 4-2 to cancel the polls.
It was the first time a court had overturned the results of a presidential election in Africa and surprised many observers.
However, the fallout could be damaging to Kenya, which has a history of disputed elections and political violence.
Odinga’s claims of rigging after defeat in 2007 elections prompted rioting and retaliation by security forces, which tipped the country into its worst crisis for decades. About 1,200 people were killed in the campaign of ethnic violence that followed. He also claimed the 2013 poll was rigged.
Kenyatta, 55, expressed regret about the court’s judgment, but said he respected it, calling for “peace, peace, peace” in a televised address shortly after the decision was announced.
Rhetoric on both sides has hardened in recent weeks, however.
NASA officials told the Guardian the opposition could prevent any vote going ahead by blockading polling stations.
“The atmosphere is very febrile and polarised. The political elite had an opportunity to entrench Kenyan democracy but have been extremely irresponsible in taking hardline positions that make a compromise, however necessary, a dim prospect,” said Mutiga.
Some observers see the ongoing political battles as the final acts of a dynastic rivalry between the families of Kenyatta and Odinga that has lasted more than half a century.
The candidates’ fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga, having been allies in the struggle for independence from Britain, later became bitter rivals.
Kenyatta is from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic community, and Odinga from the Luo, which has long felt marginalised. Though many other factors influence voting patterns, ethnicity is still a key determinant of political loyalty in Kenya.