Riot policemen disperse supporters of Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance coalition during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya, October 11, 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Riot policemen disperse supporters of Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance coalition during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya, October 11, 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Nairobi — Kenyan police fired tear gas at opposition supporters in two cities as the East African nation awaits the electoral commission’s response to Raila Odinga’s withdrawal from a presidential vote re-run that threatens a constitutional crisis.

Demonstrators marched in the capital, Nairobi, and the western city of Kisumu to protest what Odinga said is the electoral commission’s failure to ensure that the new vote ordered by the supreme court will be fair. The tribunal annulled the presidential election in August because it failed to comply with the constitution. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was declared the winner of that ballot, said on Tuesday that the re-run would go ahead, even with him as the sole candidate.

Kenyan stocks fell as much as 1.2% and yields on its Eurobonds rose 11 basis points by 1.45pm in Nairobi as the opposition announcement clouded an already uncertain outlook for growth, which is slowing after a prolonged drought. East Africa’s biggest economy and the world’s largest tea exporter, Kenya is a regional hub for companies including Toyota Motor and General Electric.

"It is unclear how much more of a battering the economy can continue to withstand as a result of this election cycle," said Ronak Gopaldas, an Africa strategist at Rand Merchant Bank. "Having been on auto-pilot for the better part of the year, the continued politicking will sap confidence, while further delaying the urgent need for fiscal consolidation and policy reforms."

Odinga’s withdrawal creates a unique legal quandary for Kenya. While its electoral law says that if one candidate withdraws the other will be declared the winner, the supreme court ruled in 2013 that in such a scenario, fresh nominations need to be called. By withdrawing, Odinga is banking on the latter taking precedence.

The electoral commission is still weighing the repercussions of Odinga’s announcement and will announce the way forward either later on Wednesday or on Thursday, spokesperson Andrew Limo said by phone.

A raft of controversial electoral amendments pushed through parliament by Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Party could result in him declared the winner of the vote, though that move may be challenged in court, said Charles Kanjama, managing partner at Muma & Kanjama Advocates. "There will be continued increased agitation, which may weaken state institutions because neither political side wants to accept decisions from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission or the supreme court."

Tension between members of the ruling Jubilee Party and the opposition National Super Alliance has escalated since Kenyatta’s 54% victory in the August vote was overturned — and the latest twist raises the spectre of increased violence. While the vote passed relatively peacefully four years ago, more than 1,100 people were killed in turmoil sparked by a disputed 2007 result.

"Political temperatures are likely to rise and there is a high risk of violence from opposition supporters if Kenyatta is declared president," said Dismas Mokua, an analyst at Nairobi-based risk advisory firm Trintari.

The opposition will hold daily protests starting next week, James Orengo, a senator in the opposition alliance, said at the rally in Nairobi.

Bloomberg

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