Kenyan Opposition Begins Protests Over Election Impasse

  • Foreign ambassadors express concern at deteriorating politics
  • One protester dies as demonstrations held in Nairobi, Mombasa

Protesters run away from tear gas in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 26, 2017.

Photographer: Bryan Jaybee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Kenyan opposition supporters began protests to demand an overhaul of the electoral authority as foreign ambassadors called for a resumption of negotiations on how a rerun of the country’s annulled presidential election will be handled.

Police fired teargas to disperse National Super Alliance protesters in the capital, Nairobi, and the western city of Kisumu, as dozens of people marched through the port city of Mombasa. The main business lobby group warned that uncertainty about the vote is damaging the economy.

“We are deeply concerned by the deterioration in the political atmosphere and the impact this has had on preparations for the election,” U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec said in a statement he read on behalf of 14 diplomats in the East African nation.

Kenya is scheduled to hold the rerun on Oct. 26, after the Supreme Court annulled the Aug. 8 election citing “irregularities and illegalities” by the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission. The opposition has demanded the commission change staff and use different electronic systems in the new vote. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has rejected the ultimatum and in turn proposed changes to electoral laws that an IEBC official said would disempower the commission.

Uncertainty about the new election is unnerving investors and clouding the outlook for an economy that’s already slowing. Kenya is a regional hub for companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and is on the cusp of becoming an oil exporter, with Tullow Oil Plc among firms that are developing the discovery of at least 1 billion barrels of crude resources.

‘Super-Heated Rhetoric’

“The presidential election rerun is turning out to be in a class of its own in terms of the damage it is doing to the economy,” the Kenya Private Sector Alliance said in a statement handed to reporters in Nairobi. “Our super-heated political rhetoric and hardline positioning by politicians, accompanied by threats of chaos and implied violence, are now a serious threat to the continued economic well-being of this country.”

Widening divisions within the commission about how the vote will be organized may force the postponement of the election, according to an official at the electoral body familiar with developments. Some senior members of the IEBC will refuse to take part in a new election as things stand, said the person, who asked not to be identified for reasons of personal safety.

Amendments to electoral laws that the Jubilee Party plans to pass in parliament would effectively place the commission under its control, the person said. The opposition last week withdrew from talks with the IEBC and the Jubilee Party that were aimed at settling their differences.

Western envoys in Nairobi urged both sides to be “reasonable” in their demands of the IEBC, saying proposed changes to electoral laws and threats by the opposition to boycott the rerun undermined the agency’s ability to conduct a better election within the stipulated time frame. The Supreme Court ordered the vote to take place within 60 days of its Sept. 1 ruling.

“It would be impossible to remake the IEBC in a way that satisfies all political demands, and everyone should refrain from undermining it,” Godec said. “All should give the IEBC space, time, and respect.”

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