Kenyan Opposition Leader Quits Election Rerun in Test of Law

  • Opposition says electoral body fails to ensure fair ballot
  • Announcement pre-empts changes to electoral law by government

Kenyan Opposition Leader Won't Run in New Election

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga won’t run in a new presidential election ordered by the Supreme Court, testing the limits of the East African nation’s constitution and the power of the judiciary.

Odinga said he withdrew from the race because the electoral commission failed to make the changes necessary to avoid the problems that plagued the August ballot, which judges nullified because it failed to comply with the constitution. President Uhuru Kenyatta told supporters on Tuesday the Oct. 26 rerun would go ahead, even with him as the sole candidate.

Raila Odinga

Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

This creates a unique legal quandary for Kenya. While its electoral law says that if one candidate withdraws the other will be declared the winner, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that in such a scenario, fresh nominations need to be called. By withdrawing, Odinga is banking on the latter taking precedence.

“We are going to a major political crisis, a major constitutional crisis,” Professor Peter Wanyande, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi, in the capital, said by phone. “In a democracy, which we are by virtue of our constitution, you cannot hold an election with only one candidate.”

Escalating Tensions

Tension between members of the ruling Jubilee party and the opposition National Super Alliance has escalated since Kenyatta’s 54 percent victory in the August vote was overturned -- and the latest twist raises the specter of increased violence. While the vote four years ago passed relatively peacefully, more than 1,100 people were killed in turmoil sparked by a disputed 2007 result.

Odinga’s move came just one day before parliament was scheduled to pass a fast-tracked amendment to the law that would allow the electoral authority to declare a winner if one of the contestants withdraws.

“All indications are that the election scheduled for Oct. 26 will be worse than the previous one,” Odinga told reporters Tuesday in Nairobi.

Uncertainty over who will run the country has shaken investor confidence and clouded the outlook for an economy that’s already struggling to expand because of a prolonged drought. East Africa’s biggest economy and the world’s largest tea exporter, Kenya is a regional hub for companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and General Electric Co.

Stocks Falling

The Nairobi Securities Exchange All Share Index has fallen the most in Africa and is the fifth-worst performer in the world since Sept. 1, when the vote was declared void by the Supreme Court. The government’s international bonds due in 2024 have also dropped since then, with yields climbing 33 basis points to 6.35 percent.

Whether Odinga’s decision to pull out will be upheld is still unclear. Samwel Mohochi, the executive director of the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, said the electoral authority may argue that his withdrawal is illegal since it came too long after the election date was first announced, on Sept. 21.

The Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission said it’s received notice from Odinga of his withdrawal from the race and is consulting legal counsel before it announces the way forward, according to a statement on its Twitter account.

Speaking at a campaign rally in the southeastern town of Voi, Kenyatta told supporters he expected the vote would go ahead on Oct. 26, “and the people of Kenya will have the right to choose and determine who their leaders shall be."

For its part, the opposition plans to hold nationwide protests on Wednesday, including a mass gathering in Nairobi, according to opposition Senator James Orengo.

— With assistance by Adelaide Changole

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