Kenyan opposition alliance names Odinga as presidential candidate

The 72-year-old former prime minister, the loser in Kenya’s last two presidential polls, will try to unseat President Uhuru Kenyatta.

FILE: Veteran politician Raila Odinga. Picture: AFP.

NAIROBI - Veteran politician Raila Odinga will represent Kenya’s opposition alliance in the presidential election in August, his fourth time as a presidential candidate.

His nomination was announced by leaders of the National Super Alliance, known by its acronym Nasa, to cheering supporters at a rally on Thursday.

In an acceptance speech, the 72-year-old former prime minister, the loser in Kenya’s last two presidential polls, pledged to lower food prices and tackle corruption. He has also promised public sector reforms and stronger local government.

Odinga, who comes from one of Kenya’s most powerful political families, will try to unseat President Uhuru Kenyatta, the wealthy son of the country’s first president and head of the ruling Jubilee party, who is seeking a second term.

Kenyans go to the polls on 8 August to elect a president, lawmakers and local officials. Devolution means that many of the local races to control lucrative county budgets are expected to be closely fought.

The last elections in 2013 were largely peaceful but the country is still haunted by the two months of violence that followed the disputed 2007 presidential poll, when political protests rapidly spilled into ethnic bloodletting. More than 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 fled their homes.

The violence threatened the stability of Kenya, a solid Western ally and developing democracy in a volatile region.

Odinga served as prime minister of Kenya from 2008-2012 in a power-sharing government set up to end the violence that followed former president Mwai Kibaki’s contested win. Odinga had been ahead when electoral officials abruptly stopped tallying votes and announced Kibaki had won. He first ran for president in 1997.

Odinga identifies as a left-winger and named his first son Fidel, after Cuban leader Fidel Castro. A hospital that his father helped build in Western Kenya, the family’s power base, is nicknamed Russia after its main financial backer.

Odinga has refused to rule out street protests if the elections are “rigged”, raising fears of potential clashes.

Kenya replaced the entire board of the election commission late last year after deadly protests over the widespread failure of electronic voting equipment in 2013.

Odinga’s vice-presidential pick, softly-spoken lawyer Kalonzo Musyoka, frequently refers to his born-again Christian faith and has been relatively untainted by Kenya’s frequent corruption scandals. He is 63 and has served in parliament or as a minister for nearly 30 years.

Party primaries were held this month, and parts of the country have already seen low-level violence and protests. Dozens of the primary races had to be suspended and re-run.

In Kisumu, a southern city that is Odinga’s stronghold, party officials declared two conflicting winners of the governorship race on Wednesday before the majority of votes had been counted.

The ruling party has also had to cancel and rerun many of its primary races amid complaints over lack of voting materials and rigging.