Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga dismisses ‘sham’ election

FT
Marietje

Kenya’s opposition leader dismissed the repeat election won by President Uhuru Kenyatta as a “sham” and promised to lobby for a fresh “free and fair” ballot through a “national resistance campaign”.


The uncompromising speech by Raila Odinga is likely to prolong Kenya’s worst political crisis in a decade, damage the economy further and deepen polarisation. Violence since the first contest in August is thought to have claimed about 50 lives.

The EU’s election observer mission on Tuesday did not endorse Mr Kenyatta as the winner of Thursday’s election and called for “urgent political dialogue” after a vote it said had been “damaged” by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

“Actions by both sides have put the people and institutions of Kenya in an extremely difficult position,” said Marietje Schaake, head of the mission. “More than ever there is a need in Kenya for political leaders to take up their responsibility and find a way out of the impasse through direct talks at the highest level.”

Mr Odinga said the campaign would involve the creation of a people’s assembly to lobby for a new election, an economic boycott of businesses related to those in power and the formation of a task force to address political and social issues.

“If there’s no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government,” he said in a 25-minute address. “Governments are not above the constitution and constitutions are not above the people. To cut short the long story . . . this election must not stand.”

Mr Odinga did not say if he would appeal to the supreme court to seek the nullification of Mr Kenyatta’s victory, as he did after the August poll. Mr Kenyatta’s lawyers expect activists to do so.

The former prime minister who has failed in four elections to become president said he had plenty of evidence to prove his allegation that last week’s election was a sham but did not produce any.

The supreme court voided the August result, in which Mr Kenyatta won with 54 per cent of the vote, because of “illegalities and irregularities” in the tallying of the votes.

Mr Kenyatta was on Monday declared the winner with 98.3 per cent of the vote after Mr Odinga withdrew and called on supporters to stay away. He claimed the electoral commission had not made sufficient reforms since the supreme court ruling to ensure a credible process.

Most of his supporters heeded his call and turnout was only 38.4 per cent, less than half that in August. There were five other candidates.

Mr Odinga said he was in favour of a “national dialogue” to resolve his differences with Mr Kenyatta. “All political differences are resolved through dialogue,” he said. But this dialogue should focus on a new election to “restore democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law”.

In his acceptance speech Mr Kenyatta said he was prepared to engage in political negotiations only after the opposition had exhausted the “constitutional process” to challenge his victory.

In recent days William Ruto, his deputy, has become increasingly critical of Mr Odinga, accusing him of forming “armed militias” and likening him to Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army that has killed thousands of people in several African countries over the past four decades.

The people’s assembly would consist of political groups, civil society, workers, religious leaders, women, youth and economic interest groups, Mr Odinga said.

The inaugural meeting would be announced in the next few days, and any attempt to prevent the assembly would amount to “totalitarianism”, Mr Odinga added.