Kenya bans protests, in­di­cates elec­tion re­run will take place de­spite boy­cott

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY RAEL OMBUOR AND PAUL SCHEMM paul.schemm@wash­post.com Schemm re­ported from Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia.

nairobi — Ten­sions rose in Kenya on Thurs­day as the govern­ment banned demon­stra­tions and in­di­cated that it would go ahead with an elec­tion re­run that the op­po­si­tion is con­vinced can­not be free and fair un­der the cur­rent sys­tem.

The or­der sets au­thor­i­ties on a col­li­sion course with sup­port­ers of op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga, who ear­lier this week pulled out of the Oct. 26 vote. Ma­jor demon­stra­tions against the elec­toral com­mis­sion, which the op­po­si­tion sees as fa­vor­ing in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, have been called for Fri­day.

Last month, the Supreme Court in­val­i­dated the re­sults of an Aug. 8 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Keny­atta won, af­ter al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in vote count­ing. It or­dered that new elec­tions be held within 60 days.

Odinga di­rected much of the blame for the lapses at the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion (IEBC) and called for elec­toral re­forms. But he said this week that not enough has been done to ad­dress the problems and boy­cotted the new vote.

Odinga’s back­ers have held weekly demon­stra­tions against the com­mis­sion. Some of the protests have turned vi­o­lent and dam­aged prop­erty. The de­cree bans demon­stra­tions in Kenya’s three big­gest cities: Mom­basa, Kisumu and Nairobi, the cap­i­tal.

“We can­not go on this way. It is un­for­tu­nate to see peo­ple’s cars be­ing smashed, prop­erty be­ing de­stroyed in the guise of peace­ful demon­stra­tions. We must re­spect the law,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Fred Ma­tiangi said.

Odinga, who has waged four pre­vi­ous un­suc­cess­ful cam­paigns for pres­i­dent, ac­cused the IEBC of re­fus­ing to un­der­take any mean­ing­ful re­forms and warned that the revote was shap­ing up to be even more flawed than the orig­i­nal elec­tion.

Rather than post­pone the new elec­tion or ad­dress his com­plaints, the IEBC said Wed­nes­day that the vote would go for­ward and would in­clude six mi­nor can­di­dates.

Pre­vi­ously, the re­run was to have in­volved only Keny­atta and Odinga. With none of the other can­di­dates hav­ing gar­nered more than 1 per­cent of the vote in Au­gust, the in­cum­bent was ex­pected to notch an easy win in the new elec­tion.

On Tues­day, Keny­atta’s Ju­bilee Party, which holds a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment, passed amend­ments to the elec­toral law that ap­peared de­signed to le­gal­ize many of the vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that prompted the high court to toss out the orig­i­nal elec­tion re­sults.

One amend­ment says that if any can­di­date were to pull out of an elec­tion re­run in­volv­ing two hope­fuls, the re­main­ing can­di­date would au­to­mat­i­cally win. The amend­ments await the ap­proval of the Sen­ate and the pres­i­dent.

Solomon Owuoche, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Nairobi, warned that such amend­ments are dan­ger­ous.

“Re­gard­less of what we will wit­ness in the next weeks or months, th­ese laws will one day come to haunt us,” Owuoche said. “Chang­ing laws is not the so­lu­tion to the cri­sis.”

He said the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil is un­der­min­ing the very pur­pose of elec­tions, which is to cre­ate po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy.

“The elec­tions will be held, but there will be one party who will not agree with the re­sults and there is a pos­si­bil­ity the elec­tions will be an­nulled again,” he added. “Then the shenani­gans will con­tinue.”

On Wed­nes­day, thou­sands of Odinga sup­port­ers demon­strated in front of IEBC of­fices in Nairobi, Mom­basa and Kisumu. They were dis­persed with tear gas, and in­juries were re­ported.

Pol­i­tics in Kenya of­ten has strong eth­nic un­der­tones, and the 2007 elec­tions un­leashed weeks of vi­o­lence in which at least 1,400 peo­ple died.

Keny­atta, who presents him­self as a pro-busi­ness can­di­date, is from the dom­i­nant Kikuyu tribe. Odinga, who is fo­cus­ing on com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion and help­ing the dis­en­fran­chised, is from the smaller Luo tribe.

The un­cer­tainty and pro­longed elec­tion sea­son have been hard on Kenya’s econ­omy, nor­mally one of the re­gion’s most ro­bust. The stock mar­ket has been down, and the Reuters news agency re­ported that the govern­ment trimmed 2017 growth fore­casts to 5.5 per­cent from 5.9 per­cent.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers block streets and burn tires dur­ing a protest in Kisumu, Kenya, on Wed­nes­day. Op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the Oct. 26 vote, and protests have been called for Fri­day.

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