Kenyan Finance Minister Warns Against ‘Expensive’ Vote Runoff

Kenyan Finance Minister Robinson Githae urged taxpayers to give more than half the votes to one presidential candidate at elections next month and avoid an “expensive” and potentially divisive runoff.

Kenya is due to hold its first election under a 2010 constitution that introduced a second round of voting if no candidate wins by more than 50 percent and gets at least a quarter of the support in 24 of 47 counties.

“A rerun is going to be expensive, it may divide this country, so really this is a message to say ‘please make up your mind,’” Githae told reporters today in Nairobi, the capital. “Let’s finish this thing in the first round.”

Kenya, which has East Africa’s largest economy, is trying to prevent a re-occurrence of ethnic clashes that followed the last vote five years ago. The country has elections on March 4 for six offices including the president, legislators and senators.

The opposition accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the vote to stay in power for a second term, sparking two months of fighting that left more than 1,100 people dead and displaced another 300,000. Calm returned after Kibaki signed a power-sharing accord with then-opposition leader Raila Odinga, who was installed in the newly created position of prime minister.

Second Round

Odinga is again vying for the presidency and leading in most public opinion polls as the candidate for the Coalition for Reform and Democracy alliance. His closest challenger is Jubilee coalition candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, a deputy prime minister facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for directing 2007-2008 post-election clashes. He denies the allegations.

A survey by Ipsos Synovate published on Jan. 25 indicated Odinga is six percentage points ahead of Kenyatta at 46 percent which is short of the threshold needed to avoid a runoff. A poll by Infotrak released on Jan. 11 put Odinga at 51 percent against Kenyatta’s 39 percent.

A second round of voting increases the chances of a disputed outcome, Githae said. It would also cause confusion because the newly elected legislative branch would have to operate under the old government, including Kibaki, until the new executive moves into place, he said.

A presidential runoff must take place 30 days after the first round, according to the country’s constitution.

Githae, a lawyer who has been a legislator for more than a decade, last month lost a party contest by the National Alliance, led by Kenyatta, to run for governor of Kirinyaga country, the Nairobi-based Daily Nation newspaper reported.

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