After election, Kenyan opposition leader plans more protests

October 31, 2017
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday harshly criticized an election rerun in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner, saying it should be scrapped in favor of yet another vote and that the opposition would continue to protest in the streets.

Odinga’s first public comments since election results were announced Monday suggested that Kenya’s political and ethnic tensions are likely to fester. The opposition leader, who boycotted the Oct. 26 vote, hinted that his supporters could appeal to the nation’s highest court to nullify a presidential election for the second time since August.

“We shall see to it that we conduct a free, fair and credible presidential election as ordered by the Supreme Court,” Odinga said. “It’s in our best interests that we do so sooner rather than later.”

The court invalidated the Aug. 8 election in which Kenyatta was declared the winner after finding what it called “irregularities and illegalities.” Odinga, whose petition alleging vote-rigging led to the court’s ruling, boycotted Thursday’s vote because he said electoral reforms had not been made.

Kenyatta has said he expects legal challenges to the latest election, which he won with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote because he faced no significant challenge.

The opposition also plans “economic boycotts, peaceful procession, picketing and other legitimate forms of protest,” said Odinga, emphasizing that demonstrations would be peaceful.

However, his supporters have often clashed with police in Nairobi slums and opposition areas in western Kenya since the latest election. At least nine people have been killed. The opposition accuses security forces of using excessive force, while the government says Odinga’s camp has incited violence.

“If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government,” Odinga said Tuesday.

Although opposition areas were generally quiet after Odinga’s announcement, the unrest since the election has highlighted divisions that continue to roil East Africa’s economic hub.

European Union election observers said actions by Kenya’s rival political camps have damaged the electoral process and put Kenyans and their institutions in “an extremely difficult position.”

The EU, whose observer mission was smaller than in the August election, said there has been intimidation of the judiciary, attacks on the election commission, efforts to disrupt the electoral process and some cases of excessive use of force by police. However, it said polling and counting was “generally well administered” and that there were some technical improvements.

Kenyan business and religious leaders pleaded for calm in a country weary of tension. The head of a business association, Nderitu Mwangi of the Hood Group, said companies have suffered big losses because of the turmoil.

The vote has left the country “grossly divided along ethnic and political lines,” The National Council of Churches of Kenya said.

Kenya’s election commission has said the turnout of registered voters in the Oct. 26 election was about 40 percent, compared with roughly twice that in the August balloting. Odinga remained on the ballot and still got 73,000 votes, or just under 1 percent. In August, he received 45 percent to Kenyatta’s 54 percent.

Voting did not take place in two dozen of Kenya’s 290 constituencies due to opposition protests, although the election commission cited an election law that says final results can be announced if the outcome is not affected by the tally in areas that didn’t vote.

Odinga, who is from the Luo ethnic group, and Kenyatta, who is a Kikuyu, also faced off in a 2013 election similarly marred by allegations of vote-rigging. The opposition leader also ran unsuccessfully in 2007, and ethnic-fueled animosity after that vote killed more than 1,000 people and forced 600,000 from their homes.

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