Kenya presidential election standoff

Kenya presidential election standoff

18th September 2017 Africa, Analysis

Serious doubts over the scheduled rerun on 17th October

The main Kenyan presidential candidates — incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and his challenger Raila Odinga — resumed their campaign soon after the Supreme Court invalidated the 8 August presidential election. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has set the presidential poll rerun to 17 October, following the Supreme Court’s order that a fresh poll be held within 60 days from its 1 September verdict. Yet there are serious doubts whether the poll rerun will take place as scheduled by the IEBC, with serious implications for the country’s stability. The IEBC has so far not shown any signs of meeting any of NASA’s demands, including the dismissal of the IEBC’s senior officials and the nomination of new Returning Officers. Additionally, against NASA’s other demand, the electoral commission has retained the Dubai-based Al Ghurair printing firm to supply the presidential ballot papers. NASA candidate Raila Odinga has threatened to boycott the scheduled election on 17 October if the IEBC does not address his updated list of demands (nine in total), including the dismissal of Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba, and others involving changes in various aspects of the election — from ballot printing to the conduct of the polls and results transmission. NASA’s lack of trust in the independence of the IEBC no longer needs to be backed by evidence, and tensions between the two institutions have become more palpable. There remains little chance that the IEBC will meet NASA’s demands, which the opposition coalition believes will help avoid past mistakes and guarantee a credible election. Meanwhile, tensions between the two main challengers are mounting, with President Kenyatta recently declaring that his JUBILEE party would use its majority in the current Parliament, to impeach Odinga, should the opposition leader win the 17th October election rerun.

Projection

Doubts over NASA’s participation in the upcoming election, raise the likelihood of violence. Should the main opposition coalition put its threats into action, the IEBC may take the obvious — yet perilous — step of organizing the election without NASA, in which case President Kenyatta would win unchallenged. Yet this would lead to an impasse and may plunge the country into generalized violence. The threat of Al-Shabaab attacks on Kenyan soil remains real (the group has launched at least two attacks in Mandera and Lamu counties in the past seven days), internal political instability may lead to security holes, which the terrorist group can exploit. Many observers lauded the Supreme Court for making the bold and unprecedented move of invalidating the 8th August poll results, a ruling which prevented a tense situation from reaching a boiling point, albeit on a temporary basis. Both JUBILEE and NASA need to put the country’s stability ahead of their narrow interests, by making concessions on ways to improve the IEBC’s credibility ahead of the polls.