Kenya – Presidential election standoff
On 1st September, the Kenyan Supreme Court voted 4-2 to invalidate the 8 August presidential poll results, ordering a re-run within 60 days. Main opposition coalition candidate Raila Odinga had petitioned the court after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had declared incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner.
Though President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto accepted the court’s ruling, they have since been issuing veiled threats against the Supreme Court judges. Meanwhile, Odinga and his co-principals in the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition have issued three demands, as a condition for their participation in the upcoming poll re-run.
Firstly, NASA is demanding the dismissal of six IEBC officials, including Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba and ICT Committee Chair Yakub Guliye. Secondly, a new printing firm to be contracted to print the presidential ballot papers, after it accused the Dubai-based firm al-Ghurair of printing ballot papers with no security features, among other claims. And lastly, a new list of Returning Officers, after it alleged that the majority of the previous Returning Officers had taken part in the vote “rigging scheme”.
The IEBC announced that it would operate some restructuring upon the examination of the court’s full judgement and recommendations, which are expected to be made available within 21 days of the court’s ruling.
Yet, with time constraints, it is less likely that the IEBC will be able (or willing) to yield to NASA’s demands. Citing the same reason, the IEBC had already rejected an earlier court’s ruling, which demanded the cancellation of its printing contract with al-Ghurair, after NASA had raised concerns about possible links between the company and President Kenyatta. Moreover, President Kenyatta has already indicated that the IEBC should conduct the re-run in its current structure.
An impasse could lead to violence
Depending on their political and tribal affiliations, Kenyans reacted differently to the Supreme Court’s decision. But there were no serious signs of violence, even as NASA supporters took to the streets to celebrate the court’s ruling.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the IEBC will be willing to make efforts to restore its credibility, following its recent debacle. President Kenyatta and his camp are also more likely to resist any reforms which they may perceive to be in favor of NASA. Being in control of the government’s institutions, Kenyatta may also increase intimidation against other stakeholders to maximize his chances of retaining the presidency.
In such a climate, and in the absence of any serious restructuring of the IEBC, whose credibility is already seriously compromised, NASA is more likely to boycott the re-run, a scenario which could plunge the country into chaos.
There was already violence in opposition strongholds, following the IEBC’s announcement of the results, with the security forces accused of using disproportionate force, including live ammunition, to repress protests. Kenya could still descend into the same chaos — or worse — should an impasse ensue before the upcoming presidential poll re-run.
The country’s fate seems to be lying in the hands of the IEBC, which is back in the spotlight following the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the 8 August elections.