Kenyan opposition leader withdraws from election rerun

Tuesday October 10, 2017
By Matina Stevis-Gridneff

Raila Odinga says systems aren’t in place to address the irregularities identified as grounds for annulling the initial vote

NAIROBI, Kenya—Opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrew from a rerun of Kenya’s presidential election, saying the vote wouldn’t be fair and calling for protests across the East African nation.

The surprise move on Tuesday casts one of Africa’s biggest economies and most stable democracies deeper into uncertainty following a decision by its Supreme Court to annul the results of the initial poll in August, in which the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was declared winner.

The Aug. 31 ruling, a first for Africa, followed a petition by Mr. Odinga and his NASA coalition. The court ordered a runoff between Messrs. Odinga and Kenyatta to be held on Oct. 26.

In the weeks since, Mr. Odinga has raised concerns that the new date didn’t leave sufficient time to put in place safeguards preventing renewed irregularities in the vote—a charge that he repeated on Tuesday. Most analysts say they believe that Mr. Odinga, a veteran politician who lost to Mr. Kenyatta in 2013, was unlikely to win the repeat vote.

“We believe that all will be best served by NASA vacating its presidential candidature,” Mr. Odinga said.

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The 72-year-old said that instead of holding the vote this month, parties should be able to make fresh nominations for candidates, a process that would likely take several weeks. He didn’t say whether he plans to run again for his own party’s nomination.

“We at NASA have insisted that the fresh election…be held to the standard ordered by the Supreme Court, that is, in strict conformity with the Constitution and written law,” Mr. Odinga said. “Instead, the case for proceeding with the fresh election on 26 October without these changes is being made on the grounds of time constraints.”

Mr. Kenyatta dismissed Mr. Odinga’s demand for reopening the nomination period.

“It’s his democratic right to participate or not. We’re telling him it’s the right of people to decide,” Mr. Kenyatta told a crowd of supporters at a campaign stop in the town of Voi.

His party, the Jubilee coalition, holds a large majority in Parliament and wants to pass several emergency electoral-law amendments, one of which says that if one candidate boycotts a vote, the other automatically wins.

The electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, said it was trying to determine what Mr. Odinga’s withdrawal meant for the planned vote.

“The Commission and the legal team are meeting and will communicate way forward,” it said in a tweet from its verified account on Tuesday.

Some analysts said Mr. Odinga’s withdrawal puts into question the Oct. 26 date and further polarizes an already divided society.

“I anticipate there will be a prolonged stalemate,” said Murithi Mutiga, Kenya analyst at Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group. He said the country’s leaders have “raised the stakes rather than lowering the temperature and now they’re going to put the country into what might be a long period of uncertainty.”

This month, Mr. Odinga walked out of talks with the IEBC on how to avoid new irregularities in the coming vote. The Supreme Court found that many polling stations’ results weren’t verified with the requisite official paperwork and that much of the documentation that would guarantee the tallying had been fair was never submitted. The court found that in view of these irregularities, the commission shouldn’t have announced Mr. Kenyatta the winner.

Mr. Odinga and his running mate say the election board was complicit in rigging the Aug. 8 vote in favor of Mr. Kenyatta, a charge the commission and the president have denied.

The decision to annul the August elections stunned observers and was just the fourth such ruling world-wide. Mr. Kenyatta has insisted the vote must go ahead on Oct. 26.

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