Kenya president says polls must be this week, despite doubts
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
Oct. 23, 2017
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the re-run of the presidential election must go ahead as planned on Thursday, despite the chief electoral officer's recent statement that he cannot guarantee that the polls would be credible.
Kenyatta met Monday with electoral commission chief Wafula Chebukati and said the commission has a responsibility to conduct the election, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reported.
"We have made funds available for the IEBC (the electoral commission) to do its job. Now they really should deliver," Kenyatta said following the meeting, according to the newspaper. Kenyatta also addressed campaign supporters, saying that the elections must go ahead despite a boycott by the main opposition candidate, divisions within the country and disagreements within the electoral commission.
Kenyatta's firm insistence the elections must be held Thursday added to a crisis atmosphere in Kenya, which is embarking on one of the most perilous weeks in its political history, with the criticisms of the elections a blow to a country once heralded as a beacon of regional stability.
In addition to the electoral chairman's doubt that free and fair elections can be held this week, another electoral commissioner, Roselyn Akombe, resigned, saying credible elections are not possible. She fled to the United States, saying she feared for her safety.
Shortly before the Aug. 8 vote, Christopher Msando, an election official who was in charge of the electronic voting system and technology to prevent voter fraud, was murdered in an unsolved case that fueled theories about alleged attempts to tamper with the electoral process.
The tension building ahead of the planned vote on Thursday has alarmed world leaders who are appealing for calm in Kenya, a linchpin of East African economic development that has played a key role in the fight against the al-Shabab Islamic extremist group in neighboring Somalia, where a massive truck bombing killed at least 358 people on Oct. 14.
Pope Francis, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, have called for restraint in a nation that endured deadly ethnic-based violence after a disputed 2007 election as well as the killing of dozens of protesters, some of whom were rioting, by security forces after an August vote. Kenyatta was declared the winner of the recent election, but in a surprise ruling, the Supreme Court nullified the vote because of what it said were illegalities and irregularities and ordered a new one within 60 days.
"Unfortunately, the deteriorating political environment is undermining preparations for the new presidential election. Inflammatory rhetoric, attacks on institutions, and growing insecurity all make holding a credible and fair poll more difficult," U.S. Ambassador Robert F. Godec said in a statement that he read out on Monday on behalf of a group of top diplomatic envoys to Kenya.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga's group, the National Super Alliance, said its leadership met the diplomats and reiterated its belief that Kenya's electoral commission is not ready "to conduct free, fair and credible elections."
The opposition group said it won't participate in the new vote "because it doesn't serve the country's interest."
Odinga has said his concerns about the transparency of the electoral process have not been adequately addressed and wants his supporters to protest in the days ahead, raising the prospect of more clashes with police as well as the disruption of polling stations.
Also Monday, Kenyan prosecutors asked police to charge Ruth Odinga, a sister of the opposition leader, and opposition legislator Fred Outa for allegedly disrupting the preparations of electoral officials ahead of this week's planned election. Mobs attacked electoral commission centers in parts of western Kenya last week, disrupting training for electoral officials.
Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.