Uncertainty in the Kenyan presidential elections

With a petition filed in Kenya’s Supreme Court against the October 26 rerun of the presidential election, the country risks an intensification of political turmoil. The challenge is the second since the initial elections in August, which were overturned on grounds of alleged discrepancies in tabulation at the polling stations and the computer systems. That unprecedented ruling in September was widely hailed as an exemplar of judicial independence. Since then, President Uhuru Kenyatta has rammed through legislation that circumscribes the authority of the electoral mechanism and legal scrutiny of polls. The sense of intimidation was palpable when most of the judges failed to show up to hear a plea for the postponement of the vote. The outcome of the latest legal challenge is therefore far from certain. If the judges again decide not to uphold the latest victory for the incumbent, the absence of a genuine contest could prove to be a critical factor. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, had withdrawn from the second race in protest against the new legislation and the lack of material improvement on the ground. Days before the October election, the election commission lost the services of top officials, with one fleeing the country saying she feared for her life. Such a turn of events came as a chilling reminder of the mysterious death of a high functionary of the electoral body just before the elections in August. Moreover, there was considerable scepticism over the credibility of the October vote, as a large-scale revamp of the electoral system was seen to be impossible within that timeframe.

This is why there is speculation that the court may see merit in the petitioner’s claim that the polls were anything but free and fair. Both Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga bear much moral responsibility for the current stalemate and the violence. It is time they negotiated a lasting settlement to restore credibility to Kenya’s democracy. That requires them, especially Mr. Kenyatta, to play by the rules laid down under the 2010 constitution, which provides for greater devolution of powers. Above all, there needs to be an end to the near- monopoly of power enjoyed by the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin ethnic communities since the country’s freedom from colonial rule. Memories of the killing of hundreds in the aftermath of the 2007 elections should underscore the urgency of bringing the current fluid situation within control. For its part, the African Union must exert political pressure on Kenya’s two veteran politicians to prevent the escalation of the crisis beyond Kenya’s borders. This week the government lowered the forecast for GDP growth to below 5%, with analysts blaming the political crisis for the negative sentiment. The social cost of this upheaval would be incalculable. Strengthening the election mechanism against political interference would be an important first step.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 2:15:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/uncertain-in-kenya/article20005354.ece

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