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Angry protests erupt in Kenya over election uncertainty

  • 11 Oct 2017

A court ruling and a parliamentary vote appeared to ease incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta's path to a second term, a day after his rival quit an election they were to contest.

A supporter of Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, lies on the ground after he was hit by a police truck during a protest along a street in Nairobi, Kenya, October 11, 2017 ( Reuters )

Kenyan police fired teargas at opposition protesters who burned tyres and lobbed stones, a day after their leader Raila Odinga announced his withdrawal from the presidential race, plunging the country into uncharted waters.

As poll officials mulled their next move, opinions were split on what the veteran opposition leader's move could mean for a dramatic election saga that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta's August 8 victory annulled by the Supreme Court in a first for Africa.

Kenyatta insists an October 26 do-over must go ahead, though his longtime rival Odinga says his withdrawal legally forces election officials to begin the entire process from scratch, leaving more time for his reform demands to be met.

To maintain pressure, his opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition has called for protests every day next week.

TRT World's Caitlin McGee reports.

On Wednesday police teargassed rowdy protesters who threw stones at passing cars in Nairobi, while security forces engaged in running battles with demonstrators in Odinga's western stronghold of Kisumu.

In Kisumu thousands of protesters chanted: "No reforms, no elections".

A democratic move turned sour

Kenya's Supreme Court last month annulled the August election citing widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by election officials, and called for a re-run within 60 days.

The decision was hailed across the globe and held up as an opportunity to deepen Kenyan democracy, however the process quickly turned sour, with increasingly ugly rhetoric including attacks by Kenyatta on the judiciary.

Odinga demanded deep reforms that the election commission (IEBC) said were impossible to deliver in the constitutionally mandated period.

It was this failure to make the required changes to procedure that Odinga said pushed him to withdraw on Tuesday from the race.

"All indications are that the election scheduled for 26 October will be worse than the previous one," he said. 

Odinga is betting on a ruling by the Supreme Court after 2013 elections – in which he failed to have the result overturned - which sought to clarify what happens if an election is invalidated.

That judgement stated that if a candidate dies or withdraws from the fresh election, the IEBC must begin presidential nominations from scratch.

Odinga's decision is likely to set the stage for more court battles, while deepening the political crisis which has also led to an economic slowdown.

On Wednesday Kenya's national assembly – dominated by the ruling Jubilee party – approved a series of electoral law changes that Odinga has argued will make the "irregularities" cited by the Supreme Court, legal.

Among these is a law stating that if one candidate withdraws the remaining candidate is declared elected – however it is unclear if this would apply to the current election.

The amendments, which now go to the Senate, will also allow manual vote counting to supersede electronically transmitted results and make tally forms count even if there is "a deviation from the requirements of the form".

A system of biometric voter identification and electronic vote transmission was put in place after Odinga's loss in a 2007 election widely seen as flawed led to politically-motivated tribal violence that left some 1,100 dead.

Among the irregularities noted by the Supreme Court was the number of vote tallying sheets that were unsigned, not stamped, or did not contain watermarks or serial numbers – despite the fact that one company was hired to print them out.

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