Kenya Braces for Protests as Decision on Election Rerun Looms

  • Financial markets weaken as announcement adds to uncertainty
  • Electoral commission to announce way forward by Thursday

Raila Odinga

Photograpehr: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Kenya is bracing for street protests as the East African nation awaits the electoral commission’s response to opposition leader Raila Odinga’s decision to withdraw from a presidential vote rerun that’s threatening a constitutional crisis.

Opposition supporters gathered Wednesday in the capital, Nairobi, and in the western city of Kisumu to join demonstrations called to protest what Odinga said is the electoral commission’s failure to ensure that the new vote ordered by the Supreme Court will be fair. The tribunal annulled the presidential election in August because it failed to comply with the constitution. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who won that ballot, said Tuesday the rerun would go ahead, even with him as the sole candidate.

Kenyan stocks fell as much as 1 percent and yields on its Eurobonds rose five basis points in early trade as the opposition announcement clouded an already uncertain outlook for the economy, which is slowing after 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.

“It is unclear how much more of a battering the economy can continue to withstand as a result of this election cycle,” said Ronak Gopaldas, a Johannesburg-based Africa strategist at FirstRand Ltd.’s Rand Merchant Bank. “Having been in autopilot for the better part of the year, the continued politicking will sap confidence, while further delaying the urgent need for fiscal consolidation and policy reforms.”

Odinga’s withdrawal 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.

The electoral commission is still weighing the repercussions of Odinga’s announcement and will announce the way forward either later on Wednesday or on Thursday, spokesman Andrew Limo said by phone. 

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.

— With assistance by Adelaide Changole

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