Bloombergpolitics

Opposition Starts Protests in Kenya as Vote Standoff Deepens

  • Electoral commission has less than a month to prepare rerun
  • Supreme Court annulled Aug. 8 vote citing ‘irregularities’

National Super Alliance supporters demonstrate in Nairobi on Sept. 26, 2017.

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya’s main opposition group began protests in the capital to press its demand for changes to the electoral commission before next month’s presidential election rerun, as it accused the body of working with the ruling Jubilee Party to prepare another fraudulent vote.

Police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of National Super Alliance supporters who gathered outside the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission’s offices in the Nairobi city center on Tuesday. More demonstrations were held in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, Nairobi-based broadcaster Citizen TV reported.

“The tragedy we face today, and which we have to confront before it consumes us, is not that elections were stolen,” opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga told reporters in Nairobi. “It is that the IEBC, Jubilee and a number of other local and international actors are determined to repeat that fraud.”

A standoff between the opposition, the IEBC and the ruling party over the vote rerun is pitching Kenya toward a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court nullified last month’s election after finding the authority committed “irregularities and illegalities” and the opposition has demanded changes be made to the body’s staff and systems -- a move opposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The standoff may force the commission to call off the vote, a situation the constitution doesn’t envisage.

The new vote is clouding the outlook for an economy that’s already slowing and risks tainting its reputation as one of Africa’s top investment destinations. Kenya is a regional hub for companies including General Electric Co. and Coca-Cola Co.

Bonds Weaken

Yields on Kenya 2024 Eurobonds climbing for a second day on Tuesday, bringing the increase since the Sept. 1 court decision to 45 basis points, while the Kenyan shilling has eased 0.4 percent against the dollar. Previous disputes over elections in Kenya have led to violence, the most serious being in 2007, when clashes left more than 1,100 people dead and forced 350,000 more to flee their homes. That resulted in growth slumping to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier.

“So far it seems things are heated, but orderly,” said Jared Jeffery, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, South Africa. “It’s hard to see where Raila Odinga wants to take this. Escalating the crisis as much as he can seems to be his game plan.”

The commission hasn’t explained how it will deal with the opposition’s demands to reconstitute its management. Nor has it responded to the court’s detailed written judgment delivered on Sept. 21 that faulted the commission for declaring the vote result without the correct documentation.

No Change

While Odinga demanded that new ballot-paper suppliers be selected, the commission said Monday that it will stick with Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing Ltd., whose contract for last month’s vote was challenged in court before finally being allowed. In a letter to the opposition, the IEBC also said it’s retaining the services of Paris-based OT-Morpho to provide two electronic systems for the rerun.

The United Nations Development Programme offered to procure ballot papers and results forms for the poll, which the IEBC has asked the Treasury to consider, commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati said in the letter. Both the Jubilee Party and the opposition rejected the proposal, the Nairobi-based Daily Nation reported on Wednesday.

The vote would be managed by a “fresh presidential election implementation team,” Chebukati said, without elaborating.

Despite repeated calls by the opposition to step down, IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba said in an interview with local broadcaster KTN News on Tuesday that he isn’t considering stepping down. James Muhati, the commission’s IT manager who’d been asked by Chairman Wafula Chebukati to step down, hasn’t done so, Chiloba said.

The protests by Odinga’s alliance may escalate if the Jubilee Party carries out a threat to curb the judiciary’s powers, Norman Magaya, the head of the opposition’s secretariat, said by phone on Monday.

While Kenyatta has said he’ll abide by the Supreme Court ruling, he’s criticized the decision, labeling the judges as “crooks” and their judgment “a judicial coup.” Jubilee senators plan to propose changes that will make it almost impossible for the court to void future elections, the Nairobi-based Star reported on Sept. 23.

— With assistance by Michael Cohen, and Eric Ombok

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