Kenyatta: Elections will go ahead despite opposition leader’s withdrawal

The poll pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta against opposition leader Raila Odinga must be held by the end of October, according to a Supreme Court ruling.

Kenya's ruling president and candidate to his own succession, Uhuru Kenyatta on 6August 2017 in the Nairobi suburb of Umoja. Picture: AFP.

NAIROBI – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday that a re-run of August’s nullified presidential election would go ahead as planned on 26 October after opposition leader Raila Odinga said he was withdrawing from the “unfair” race.

“We have no problem going back to elections. We are sure we will get more votes than the last time,” Kenyatta told a rally in the southern town of Voi, speaking in Kiswahili.

Kenyan opposition lawmakers had said on Tuesday they would boycott parliament over proposed election law amendments ahead of a re-run of a presidential vote on 26 October, a contest experts say looks increasingly unlikely to happen.

The poll pitting Kenyatta against opposition leader Odinga must be held by the end of October, according to a Supreme Court ruling. Judges ordered the re-run after nullifying Kenyatta’s win in 8 August polls due to procedural irregularities.

If the election is not held, it is unclear who would lead Kenya, a regional trade and transport hub. The East African nation’s free market and staunch alliance with Western nations make it a favoured investment and tourism destination and the region’s richest economy.

But months of political uncertainty have blunted growth and raised fears that street protests could spill over into violence. At least 37 people were killed in protests following the August vote, a Kenyan rights group said on Monday. Most were killed by police, the group said.

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers said they would boycott parliament over proposed amendments to the election laws introduced by the ruling party, which has a majority in both houses.

The amendments say if a candidate boycotts an election, the remaining candidate automatically wins.

Ruling party legislators say they are trying to head off a constitutional crisis if Odinga pulls out of the election at the last minute. He has repeatedly said he will boycott the polls if some officials at the election board are not replaced.

“With fifteen days to the next election, we are not going to participate in a process where the Jubilee government is shifting the goalposts of an election and the candidate is the one to assent to the law,” opposition senator Mutula Kilonzo said at a news conference.

Opposition lawmakers announced a boycott of parliament when Kenyatta opened it in September, saying he no longer had the authority after his election was voided. Since then, they have been turning up for the minimum amount of time required to avoid their seats being declared vacant.

Britain’s Africa minister, Rory Stewart, released a statement at the weekend saying “The UK is concerned by the increasingly unstable political situation in Kenya ... Neither threats to boycott the election nor changes to the electoral legislation at this stage are helpful.”

While Kenyatta has been travelling around the country campaigning, Odinga has held few rallies. His campaign announced this week he would be flying to London for a day to deliver a lecture.

With two weeks to go to the election, Odinga spokesman Dennis Onyango was unable to provide Odinga’s campaign schedule to Reuters. Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst for the Horn of Africa, said the lack of action suggested a boycott of the polls was likely.

“The election seems a remote possibility. Potentially we are staring at a major crisis,” he said.

“The opposition is not actively campaigning, which suggests that they probably will not take part in the election. The ruling party has advanced a set of laws that appear to offer further ammunition to those who say there is not a level playing field.”