Kenya on a knife edge ahead of October election re-run
President Kenyatta opens parliament warning against divisive and destructive politics, while the opposition boycotts the event and wants election officials to resign
Nairobi — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta opened parliament on Tuesday by warning against divisive and destructive politics, while opposition lawmakers boycotted the legislature and rallied to demand the resignation of election officials.
Kenya held parliamentary, presidential and local elections on August 8, but the supreme court nullified the presidential results three weeks later, citing irregularities in the tallying process. New elections are scheduled for October 17.
While calling for unity and respect for the constitution, Kenyatta delivered a thinly veiled warning to the opposition lawmakers who had chosen to stay away from parliament. "My government will not tolerate anyone intent on disrupting our hard-won peace and stability. Under no circumstances must Kenyans ever allow our free competitive processes to become a threat to the peace and security of our nation," he said, to foot-stamping and cheering from ruling party legislators. "We shall continue to encourage vibrant democratic competition, we shall not allow destructive division."
As he spoke, opposition leaders held a rally in Kibera, the capital’s largest slum, rejecting the October 17 date unless officials on the election board, who they blame for mishandling the polls, resign.
Uncertainty about the outcome of the presidential vote has clouded the outlook for East Africa’s biggest economy, where growth is already slowing. Kenya is the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google and Coca-Cola.
On Monday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) signaled there will be no changes to its executive body when it announced that "one team with a common vision" will handle the re-run. It said its CEO, Ezra Chiloba, has been tasked with assessing the "implementation challenges" in the August vote. However, last week, the chairman of the authority wrote to Chiloba asking him to explain a series of failures in last month’s ballot.
The opposition group also plans to start "contempt proceedings" against the IEBC for failing to comply with a supreme court order to allow full scrutiny of its computer servers.
A meeting between IEBC officials and members of the opposition and the ruling Jubilee Party, that was to have taken place earlier on Tuesday to discuss plans for the re-run, was postponed because of a disagreement about the agenda, Musalia Mudavadi, a co-leader of the alliance, told reporters.
Kenyatta’s presidential rival Raila Odinga said his coalition wants returning officers involved in stealing votes in the August 8 election removed, as he reiterated his call for Chiloba and other officials to be removed. "We are saying we are not going to an election with that team," he told thousands of cheering supporters at a rally in the opposition stronghold. "If the terms we have set out are not fulfilled, there will be no election."
Former Kenyan justice minister Martha Karua has asked the country’s high court to annul the entire election, including gubernatorial, senatorial and legislative votes, citing "irregularities and illegalities", the Nairobi-based Star newspaper reported on Tuesday.
"Now we are putting it squarely to you that the supreme court of this country has found you incompetent," said Kalonzo Musyoka, Odinga’s running mate.
The surprise election annulment initially raised fears of short-term political turmoil in Kenya, the region’s richest nation and a staunch Western ally in a region roiled by conflict. But it also raised hopes among frustrated opposition supporters, who believe the last three elections were stolen from them, that the East African nation’s tarnished courts could deliver them justice.
That hope helped tamp down protests that threatened to spark the kind of violence that followed disputed 2007 elections, when about 1,200 people were killed in ethnic blood-letting.
In a separate development, a ruling party lawmaker and a former opposition senator appeared in a Nairobi court, charged with incitement to violence over speeches they had made in the past week. Both were freed on a 300,000 Kenya shilling ($3,000) bond.
A government body monitoring hate speech says it has seen a spike since the supreme court ruling. More than three times as many incidents were reported in the week following the ruling than during the whole 10-week election campaign, it said.