Tur­moil:

• Re­run of Au­gust elec­tion may not be con­tested at all

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri Nairobi

Po­lice use wa­ter can­nons to dis­perse peo­ple dur­ing an op­po­si­tion protest in Kisumu on Wednesday. Kenya lurched deeper into po­lit­i­cal cri­sis as a court rul­ing and a par­lia­men­tary vote ap­peared to ease Uhuru Keny­atta’s path to a sec­ond term as pres­i­dent.

Kenya lurched deeper into po­lit­i­cal cri­sis on Wednesday 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 ri­val quit an elec­tion they were to con­test soon.

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 — due to ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

But Odinga pulled out of the re­run on Tues­day, fu­elling doubts about whether it would be con­tested at all.

Wednesday’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% in the Au­gust vote, to con­test the sec­ond bal­lot.

Aukot has yet to an­nounce if he will def­i­nitely run.

Fur­ther mud­dy­ing the po­lit­i­cal wa­ters, par­lia­ment passed an elec­tion law amend­ment stat­ing that if one can­di­date with­drew from the re­run elec­tion, the re­main­ing one would au­to­mat­i­cally win.

The vote was boy­cotted by op­po­si­tion MPs.

That would mean 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.

“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 Tues­day, 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 on Wednesday 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.

A re­peat of the wide­spread eth­nic clashes that killed 1,200 peo­ple fol­low­ing a dis­puted pres­i­den­tial poll in 2007 ap­pears un­likely at this stage. But 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 Mon­day.

“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 in re­cent weeks.

After the high court rul­ing in his favour, Aukot told re­porters that he still had con­cerns about the board and would is­sue a state­ment in a day or two giv­ing clar­ity about his plans.

It was un­clear if other can­di­dates from the first bal­lot with lit­tle sup­port would also seek to be in­cluded, but the elec­tion board said it still had time to print bal­lot pa­pers.

The Septem­ber 1 supreme court judge­ment that nul­li­fied Keny­atta’s 1.4-mil­lion vote win also stip­u­lated elec­tions had to be held within 60 days. If that sched­ule is not met, the con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides for the speaker of par­lia­ment, a mem­ber of Keny­atta’s party, to take power.

With two weeks to go un­til the elec­tions, it is still un­clear who will stand.

“I would ex­pect one of the par­ties will try to seek an au­thor­i­ta­tive an­nounce­ment from the supreme court,” the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group’s Mutiga said.

Amid the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, the gov­ern­ment has trimmed this year’s GDP growth fore­cast from 5.9% to 5.5% last month.

The coun­try’s equity mar­kets slid fur­ther on Wednesday.

Kenya’s all share in­dex slipped 1.24%, while the blue chip in­dex fell 1.14%.

THERE’S A REAL AT­MOS­PHERE OF UN­CER­TAINTY. THERE ARE DOZENS OF OPIN­IONS OF WHAT WILL COME NEXT

/Reuters

We’ve got to vote again: Kenya's Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta ad­dresses his sup­port­ers at Burma market after his elec­tion win in Au­gust was de­clared in­valid by the supreme court in Nairobi on Septem­ber 1.

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