Editorial

Back to the ballot: On Kenyan polls

Barely days before the contentious rerun of the presidential election in Kenya on October 26, the CEO of its electoral board, Ezra Chiloba, has announced that he is going on three weeks’ leave. Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta had won the August 8 election, but it was subsequently annulled by the Supreme Court. He remains the only serious candidate in the fray. His principal rival and four-time contender, Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance, quit the race last week demanding a comprehensive overhaul of the electoral commission. It is not clear if Mr. Chiloba’s temporary removal from the scene will be enough to persuade him to change his mind. Mr. Odinga may have gambled that his boycott of the election would prompt a postponement of the poll, thereby averting a victory for Mr. Kenyatta, thus buying the opposition some time. In the event, the contest is expected to proceed on schedule, even if it means that it will be a limited fray. The prevailing scenario is, in effect, a continuation of the fluid situation on the ground, where scores of people have been killed in the political turmoil of recent months. It also sheds light on the fragile nature of Kenya’s democratic institutions more than 50 years after it won freedom from colonial rule. Two ethnic communities — the Kikuyu, represented by Mr. Kenyatta, and the Kalenjin, by Deputy President William Ruto — have mostly occupied the country’s leadership positions. As a nation that embraced multi-party democracy in the 1990s, Kenya’s corridors of power are yet to reflect its rich cultural diversity.

Marking a watershed moment on that journey is the exemplary assertion of judicial independence by Kenya’s Supreme Court, which overturned the outcome of the August poll. In a strong indictment of the election commission in September, a majority ruled that the popular exercise was not conducted in a manner consistent with the constitution. One judge even made a reference to the electoral body’s refusal to allow the court access to its computer servers as having lent credence to the opposition’s claim of manipulation. But the court’s opinion has apparently had little impact on Mr. Kenyatta, who has enacted emergency legislation to circumscribe the powers of the election body and the courts. Clearly, a robust championing of the rule of law will be needed in the days and months ahead. Nothing is more urgent for Kenya than political stability, transparency and a government that is accountable to its people. The international community erred on the side of caution with its positive assessment of the elections in August. But U.S. and European diplomats are now unambiguous in their criticism of both Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga, who have adopted unreasonable and unrealistic positions in the face of the volatile situation. It is time the two men heeded better sense.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 4:07:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/back-to-the-ballot/article19891559.ece

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