Déjà Vu for Kenya as Court Battles Loom Over Election Rerun

Updated on
  • Violence mars election as voter turnout drops below 50 percent
  • Dispute bodes ill for democracy: politics professor Wanyande

Kenya is no closer to resolving months of political turmoil after millions of opposition supporters boycotted a Supreme Court-ordered repeat of its presidential election, raising the likelihood of another legal challenge to the outcome.

Less than half of registered voters cast ballots Thursday, down from the 79 percent turnout for Aug. 8 elections that the court annulled because proper procedures weren’t followed. Both votes were marred by violent clashes between the security forces and supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who pulled out of the rerun after the electoral commission failed to heed his demands to replace staff implicated in rigging.

Supporters react during a speech by Raila Odinga in Nairobi

Photographer: Luis Tato/Bloomberg

“The probability is very high, 80 to 90 percent, of the result being challenged in court,” Charles Kanjama, managing partner at Muma & Kanjama Advocates, said by phone from Nairobi, the capital, on Friday.

The election standoff has dimmed the growth outlook in Kenya, one of Africa’s top performers over the past decade, with consumers paring back spending and companies putting projects on hold. Even if President Uhuru Kenyatta, 56, does hold onto office for a second term, he’ll face a challenge in asserting his authority and rebuilding battered investor confidence.

Economic Losses

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance, a business lobby group, estimates that the prolonged unrest and uncertainty has already lopped the equivalent of $6.75 billion off the nation’s $71 billion gross domestic product. The Nairobi Securities Exchange All Share Index has dropped 5.5 percent since the election outcome was declared void on Sept. 1, while the yield on the government’s international bonds due in 2024 has climbed 35 basis points to 6.31 percent.

“This election has no winners but several losers,” Dismas Mokua, an analyst at Nairobi-based risk advisory firm Trintari, said by phone. “National prosperity has been compromised. The voter turnout de-legitimizes the Uhuru Kenyatta win.”

Read more on Kenya’s election controversy in this QuickTake Q&A

Results from about three-quarters of the polling stations showed Kenyatta, who leads the ruling Jubilee Party, secured 98.2 percent of votes cast. Odinga, whose name remained on the ballot paper despite his withdrawal, won 1 percent. No voting occurred at 3,635 of the 40,883 polling stations, the electoral commission said.

Election Boycott

“The opposition’s call for an election boycott looks like it was successful,” Nanjala Nyabola, a Nairobi-based independent analyst, said by email. “It looks like it was a national boycott. For the Jubilee administration, this is really embarrassing.”

While the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission initially intended rescheduling the vote in four western opposition strongholds until Saturday, it called off those plans as violent clashes continued and the opposition urged its supporters to stay home.

Television footage showed police firing tear gas and live ammunition at protesters, who pelted them with stones and barricaded roads with rocks and burning tires. Eight people have died since the vote, the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

Patrick Lumumba, director of the Kenya School of Law, said the results of the election should still stand even if voting didn’t happen in all the districts.

“The duty of the IEBC is to supply the voting material,” he said by phone from Nairobi. “If the voters themselves stop them from doing that, then it will still have exercised its statutory and constitutional duties. The vote remains valid. Voting is not compulsory in Kenya. There is no turnout threshold.”

Defiance Campaign

The four-party National Super Alliance will announce what it plans do next on Oct. 30, Odinga, 72, told a cheering crowd in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, on Friday. He’s previously said he wouldn’t challenge the election outcome in court and that Nasa would instead embark on a peaceful defiance campaign to ensure “fresh, free and fair presidential elections” were held within 90 days.

Musalia Mudavadi, Odinga’s running mate, said the election rerun was a farce, had exposed the country to international ridicule and left it more divided than ever before.

“Uhuru lost the elections in August,” Mudavadi told reporters in Nairobi. “He has once again lost this sham one, in which he has basically been running against himself.”

Jubilee regards the electoral process as complete and Kenyatta will be sworn in after the official declaration of results, said David Murathe, the party’s vice chairman.

Election Fatigue

“It doesn’t matter even if turnout was 10 percent,” he said. “People are fed up with the elections. They want to go on with their lives. If there are court cases, we will deal with them when we get there.”

Peter Wanyande, a politics professor at the University of Nairobi, said the ruling party’s insistence that the vote had to go ahead despite warnings from the electoral commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati that its credibility couldn’t be guaranteed, boded ill for democracy in Kenya.

“Kenya is going to be difficult to govern and there will be continuous chaos,” he said. “Nobody can claim that what is being done is happening in an atmosphere that can guarantee free and fair voting.”

— With assistance by David Herbling

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