from Africa in Transition

The Drama Continues: Kenya's Raila Odinga Withdraws From Election Re-Run

October 11, 2017

Raila Odinga (C), Kenyan opposition leader and presidential candidate of NASA, at a news conference where he announced that he would not stand in a court-ordered re-run of August's presidential election in Nairobi, Kenya October 10, 2017. Baz Ratner/Reuters
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Kenya

Elections and Voting

On Tuesday, the principal presidential opposition candidate, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), announced that he would no longer participate in the rescheduled October 26 elections. According to him, “there is no intention from the IEBC [Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission] to make sure that the irregularities and illegalities witnessed before do not happen again.” Therefore, he contends that, “the election scheduled for 28 October will be worse than the previous one.” Among other demands, amounting to an overhaul of the election machinery, Odinga wants the IEBC chairman Ezra Chiloba and other officials to be fired, that the company that prints the ballot papers be changed, and that a new technology provider be appointed. Such changes take time and are complicated by IEBC contractual obligations to the companies involved, all of which are foreign. Odinga argues that the elections should be postponed for at least 90 days to allow these changes to be made. He is also saying that his withdrawal means that “the election scheduled for 26 October stands cancelled.” He is saying that the IEBC must begin the entire election process anew, including fresh nominations. 

Uhuru Kenyatta, incumbent president and the ostensible victor of the August 8 election, is insisting that the October 26 elections go ahead. Some in Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party are saying that with Odinga’s withdrawal, Kenyatta should immediately be sworn in now that the election planned for October 26 is no longer required. 

For many in Jubilee, the October 26 election should be a run-off, involving only the top two candidates from the August 8 elections, Kenyatta and Odinga. On the other hand, Odinga is insisting that, because the August 8 elections were invalidated by the Supreme Court, the next elections are altogether new, and thus open to all candidates. Today, a high court judge appeared to accept Odinga’s position, directing the electoral commission to allow all candidates to run. The judge said that the election was not a run-off of but a “fresh election.” It remains to be seen if Jubilee will or even can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. For now, however, the principle established is that the polling scheduled for October 26 is an altogether new election.

The Supreme Court in its ruling invalidating the August 8 elections mandated new ones by November 1. Many Kenyan observers believe that to postpone elections beyond November 1, as Odinga demands, would be extra-legal and possibly unconstitutional. The stage appears to be set for confrontation in the courts and on the streets. NASA has called for daily demonstrations, the first of which occurred today.

The impasse between Kenyatta and Odinga appears to be complete, with no signs of genuine negotiations between the two. Both are essentially tribal chieftains, Kenyatta of the Kikuyu, Odinga of the Luo, in a country where ethnic violence associated with elections is common. As of now, it looks likely that the October 26 elections will go ahead, and that Kenyatta will win them. Odinga and his supporters will likely declare these results illegitimate. At that point, if not before, the concern must be that the Kenyatta/Odinga political rivalry will morph into an ethnic struggle, setting back Kenya’s political and economic progress. Forestalling this dystopian outcome depends on Kenyatta and Odinga. Unfortunately, up to now, their behavior has not been encouraging, with Odinga’s “demands” and Kenyatta’s attacks on judges that he calls “thugs.”      
 

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