Kenya opposition says president creating ‘electoral dictatorship’

Bid to delay Thursday’s election re-run scuppered after supreme court fails to sit

Supporters of  opposition leader  Raila Odinga barricade roads and burn tyres as they demonstrate in the streets in Kisumu, Kenya on Wednesday. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga barricade roads and burn tyres as they demonstrate in the streets in Kisumu, Kenya on Wednesday. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

 

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga has accused President Uhuru Kenyatta of creating an “electoral dictatorship” after the supreme court was unable to hear a petition seeking a last-minute delay of Thursday’s repeat presidential poll because only two of seven judges turned up.

Lawyers representing Mr Odinga said the lack of a quorum was part of a concerted attempt by Kenyatta loyalists to ensure that the controversial vote goes ahead. 

“There is an attempt to undermine the authority of the institutions of government, including independent institutions like the electoral commission and the Supreme Court,” said James Orengo, Mr Odinga’s senior lawyer and an opposition senator. 

Mr Odinga later said he was turning his National Super Alliance coalition into a “resistance movement” to combat Mr Kenyatta but did not call for street protests.

The Supreme Court’s inability to sit was unprecedented. The deputy chief justice, Philomena Mwilu, did not appear at the court because her bodyguard was shot and wounded on Tuesday while driving her car in what many Kenyans believe was a politically motivated attack. 

Another judge was receiving medical treatment abroad and one was said to be out of Nairobi. Two others were “unavailable”, said David Maraga, the chief justice. Five judges are needed to form a quorum.

Dismas Mokua, a political analyst, said it was “shocking” that the judges were “running away from their responsibility”.

Marietje Schaake, the head of the EU election observation mission, said: “If supreme court judges cannot rule freely and safely, the rule of law in the country is at stake.”

Kenya’s supreme court last month ordered the re-run after it nullified the results of August’s presidential election, citing “illegalities and irregularities” after Mr Kenyatta had been declared the victor. The decision was hailed by many Kenyans as a sign of the judiciary’s independence in a country that has a history of flawed and disputed elections.

But the turmoil has deepened, and more than 40 people have been killed in political violence since Mr Kenyatta was declared the winner. 

Credible poll

Mr Odinga withdrew from the repeat election two weeks ago, saying that the electoral commission, which was heavily criticised in the court’s judgment, had not been sufficiently reformed to guarantee a credible poll. 

His complaints were corroborated by Wafula Chebukati, the commission’s chair, who said that he could not guarantee a fair vote because of political interference.

He made his comments after Roselyn Akombe, a commissioner, resigned this month and fled to the US, saying that she had received death threats.  

The chaos at the commission prompted three activists to file the petition that was to be heard on Wednesday, and called for the election to be delayed.

Later on Wednesday, Mr Odinga told 2,500 of his supporters at a rally in Nairobi that they should boycott Thursday’s “sham election”. “Tomorrow, Uhuru and [deputy president William] Ruto intend to actualise the electoral dictatorship they set out to establish on August 8.”

The resistance will involve a “national campaign of defiance of illegitimate governmental authority and non co-operation with all its organs”, as well as a “boycott of goods and services” of businesses associated with the ruling party, Mr Odinga said.

He would also seek to establish a “people’s assembly” and campaign for a new election within 90 days.

Mr Kenyatta has insisted that the vote should proceed in line with the constitution.

‘Tribal king’

His ruling Jubilee party on Wednesday accused Mr Odinga of behaving like a “tribal king”. “We must all come out and vote and show these saboteurs of the constitution that Kenya is bigger than the ambitions of one individual,” it said in a statement.

The crisis was further complicated on Wednesday when a high court judge ruled in a separate case that the returning officers for the 290 constituencies were appointed illegally.

The electoral commission said in a series of tweets that the ruling had not quashed the returning officers’ appointment. 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017