An­gry protests; Kenyan of­fi­cials mull next move

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NAIROBI: Kenyan po­lice fired tear­gas at op­po­si­tion protesters who burned tyres and lobbed stones, a day after their leader Raila Odinga an­nounced his with­drawal from the pres­i­den­tial race, plung­ing the coun­try into un­charted wa­ters. As poll of­fi­cials mulled their next move, opin­ions were split on what the vet­eran op­po­si­tion leader’s move could mean for a dra­matic elec­tion saga that saw Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s Au­gust 8 vic­tory an­nulled by the Supreme Court in a first for Africa.

Keny­atta in­sists an Oc­to­ber 26 do-over must go ahead, though his long­time ri­val Odinga says his with­drawal legally forces elec­tion of­fi­cials to be­gin the en­tire process from scratch, leav­ing more time for his re­form de­mands to be met. To main­tain pres­sure his op­po­si­tion Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (NASA) coali­tion has called for protests every day next week.

Yes­ter­day po­lice tear­gassed rowdy protesters who threw stones at pass­ing cars in Nairobi, while se­cu­rity forces en­gaged in run­ning bat­tles with de­mon­stra­tors in Odinga’s west­ern strong­hold of Kisumu. In Kisumu thou­sands of protesters chanted: “No re­forms, no elec­tions”. Kenya’s Supreme Court last month an­nulled the Au­gust elec­tion cit­ing wide­spread ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the count­ing process and mis­man­age­ment by elec­tion of­fi­cials, and called for a re-run within 60 days.

The de­ci­sion was hailed across the globe and held up as an op­por­tu­nity to deepen Kenyan democ­racy, how­ever the process quickly turned sour, with in­creas­ingly ugly rhetoric in­clud­ing at­tacks by Keny­atta on the ju­di­ciary. Odinga de­manded deep re­forms that the elec­tion com­mis­sion (IEBC) said were im­pos­si­ble to de­liver in the con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated pe­riod. It was this fail­ure to make the re­quired changes to pro­ce­dure that Odinga said pushed him to with­draw Tues­day from the race. “All in­di­ca­tions are that the elec­tion sched­uled for 26 Oc­to­ber will be worse than the pre­vi­ous one,” he said.

New elec­tion laws passed Odinga is bet­ting on a rul­ing by the Supreme Court after 2013 elec­tions-in which he failed to have the re­sult over­turned-which sought to clar­ify what hap­pens if an elec­tion is in­val­i­dated. That judg­ment stated that if a can­di­date dies or with­draws from the fresh elec­tion, the IEBC must be­gin pres­i­den­tial nominations from scratch. Odinga’s de­ci­sion is likely to set the stage for more court bat­tles, while deep­en­ing the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis which has also led to an eco­nomic slow­down. Yes­ter­day Kenya’s na­tional as­sem­bly-dom­i­nated by the rul­ing Ju­bilee party-ap­proved a se­ries of elec­toral law changes that Odinga has ar­gued will make the “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” cited by the Supreme Court, le­gal. Among these is a law stat­ing that if one can­di­date with­draws the re­main­ing can­di­date is de­clared elected-how­ever it is un­clear if this would ap­ply to the cur­rent elec­tion.

The amend­ments, which now go to the Se­nate, will also al­low man­ual vote count­ing to su­per­sede elec­tron­i­cally trans­mit­ted re­sults and make tally forms count even if there is “a de­vi­a­tion from the re­quire­ments of the form”. A sys­tem of bio­met­ric voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and elec­tronic vote trans­mis­sion was put in place after Odinga’s loss in a 2007 elec­tion widely seen as flawed led to po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated tribal vi­o­lence that left some 1,100 dead. Among the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties noted by the Supreme Court was the num­ber of vote tal­ly­ing sheets that were un­signed, not stamped, or did not con­tain wa­ter­marks or se­rial num­bers-de­spite the fact that one com­pany was hired to print them out.

‘Path to the un­known’

“The big ques­tion now is what next for Kenya? Will Mr Uhuru Keny­atta be de­clared the pres­i­dent and sworn in? And what would that mean for his le­git­i­macy, given the fact the Supreme court in­val­i­dated his elec­tion?” the Daily Na­tion asked in an ed­i­to­rial.

The news­pa­per said the main con­cern was NASA’s cam­paign of protest ac­tion. “By the look of things, they are gear­ing up for some long drawn-out street bat­tles,” read the ed­i­to­rial. Protest vi­o­lence im­me­di­ately after the Au­gust elec­tion left 37 peo­ple dead, mostly at the hands of po­lice, ac­cord­ing to a Kenyan rights group. Since then a se­ries of demon­stra­tions have seen po­lice tear­rgas protesters, who in some cases have grown vi­o­lent, with no deaths recorded.

“One thing is for sure, the coun­try is en­ter­ing un­charted wa­ters and walk­ing the path to the un­known,” the ed­i­to­rial added. In an­other plot twist, Kenya’s High Court yes­ter­day ruled that a third pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ekuru Aukot of the Third­way Al­liance, who scored less than one per­cent of the vote in the an­nulled elec­tion, should be al­lowed on the bal­lot. How­ever the Supreme Court has pre­vi­ously ruled that only the pe­ti­tioner and re­spon­dent in the case chal­leng­ing the elec­tion out­come should stand in a re-run, and this de­ci­sion is likely to stand.

-—AFP

KISUMU, Kenya: Tear­gas smoke rises near op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers dur­ing a protest in Kisumu, Kenya yes­ter­day.

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