Eight people were injured in protests in Kenya yesterday, a day after opposition leader Raila Odinga announced he would quit the presidential race, in a move that plunged the country into uncharted waters. Election officials have been locked in crisis meetings since the decision, as debate raged over what Odinga’s move could mean for a dramatic election saga that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta’s August 8 victory annulled by the Supreme Court.
Kenyatta insists an October 26 do-over must go ahead. But longtime rival Odinga says his withdrawal legally forces election officials to begin the entire process from scratch – a move that leaves more time for his reform demands to be met. To maintain pressure, his opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition called supporters to the street, saying protests would take place every day from next week.
In Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu, thousands of protesters took to the street, blocking roads, setting heaps of tyres alight and engaging in running battles with police. A health worker at a local hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said eight people had been admitted “with gunshot wounds”.
In Nairobi police briefly teargassed protesters who threw stones at passing cars. However, the crowd later dispersed peacefully after speeches from opposition leaders, helped along by the first heavy rainfall of the season. 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.
“All indications are that the election scheduled for 26 October will be worse than the previous one,” he said, announcing his withdrawal Tuesday. 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 judgement 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 a political crisis that has also led to an economic slowdown.
“One thing is for sure, the country is entering uncharted waters and walking the path to the unknown,” the Daily Nation said in an 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 teargas protesters, who in some cases have grown violent, with no deaths recorded.
However the country still has grim memories of the perils of post-election violence, with a disputed 2007 poll sparking politically-motivated tribal clashes that left some 1,100 dead.
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”. 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.
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 1% 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.
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