Vote in the balance as crisis deepens
KENYA: Kenya lurched deeper into political confusion yesterday as a court ruling and a parliamentary vote appeared to ease Uhuru Kenyatta’s path to a second term as president, a day after his chief rival quit an election they were to contest.
Kenyatta and Raila Odinga were due to face off in a repeat election on October 26, after the Supreme Court annulled their August ballot – in which the president was declared the winner.
But Odinga pulled out of the re-run on Wednesday, fuelling doubts about whether it would be contested at all. Yesterday’s interventions by the judiciary and legislature added to the uncertainty.
As police used teargas to disperse opposition protesters demanding electoral reform, the High Court approved a petition by Ekuru Aukot, who polled less than 1 per cent in the August vote, to contest the second ballot.
The election board later issued a statement saying all eight candidates who competed in August would be on the ballot. It also said although Odinga had notified them of his withdrawal by letter, he had not yet submitted the official form to do so.
The developments suggested that the second election would go ahead, with Kenyatta the likely winner against a plethora of weaker candidates. No chal- lenger except Odinga polled more than 1 per cent.
Further muddying the political waters, parliament passed an election law amendment stating that if one candidate withdrew from the re-run vote, the remaining one would automatically win. The vote was boycotted by opposition lawmakers.
The law aimed to ensure Kenyatta could be declared president if he faced no challengers.
The events stoked confusion among voters and fears that politically-driven violence might escalate. Months of political uncertainty have already blunted growth in East Africa’s richest nation, a long-time ally of the West.
‘‘There’s a real atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty. There seems to be dozens of opinions of what should come next,’’ said Murithi Mutiga, a senior Horn of Africa analyst for the global think-tank International Crisis Group.
Justifying his pullout on Wednesday, Odinga said the election would not be free and fair and renewed calls for the electoral board (IEBC), which he blamed for the procedural irregularities identified in the first ballot, to be replaced.
Opposition supporters yesterday renewed their protests for electoral reform.
Demonstrators lit bonfires in Kisumu, an Odinga stronghold in the country’s west, while more than a thousand supporters marched through the central business district in the capital Nairobi. Police used teargas to disperse them in both cities, witnesses said.
Juliana Otieno, the chief executive of the Oginga Odinga Hospital in the city, said 17 people had been admitted with injuries suffered during the protests. A Reuters witness counted at least five of them with bullet wounds.
Kisumu’s police commander, Titus Yoma, said he had no information on the bullet wounds and his officers were still quelling the protests, which were centred around two slums in the lakeside city.
At least 37 people were killed in protests immediately following the August vote, almost all of them by police, a Kenyan rights group said on Tuesday. Ethnic clashes killed 1200 people following a disputed presidential poll in 2007.
‘‘We want a reformed IEBC,’’ said Elisha Odhiambo, an opposition legislator, referring to the electoral board, which has frequently relied on riot police dispersing protests outside its offices.
Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, a key opposition player, told protesters in Uhuru Park: ‘‘Our voices must be heard. We have no war with anyone but we will not allow anyone to stifle us.’’ – Reuters
Riot police attempt to disperse supporters of Kenya’s opposition National Super Alliance coalition during a protest in Nairobi.