Kenya president snubs vote crisis meeting, presses on with campaign

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses leaders from pastoralist communities at State House in Nairobi, Kenya September 21, 2017. Presidential Press Service/Handout via

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed a crisis meeting called by the top election official for Thursday, saying he would instead spend the time campaigning for next week’s presidential vote re-run.

The first presidential vote in August, which Kenyatta won by 1.4 million votes, was annulled by the Supreme Court over procedural irregularities.

The re-run is set for Oct. 26 but opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out, alleging a failure to improve oversight of the election, casting doubt on how the vote will proceed.

Election board chairman Wafula Chebukati, in a stark message to political leaders on Wednesday, said he could not guarantee a credible vote under present conditions, and demanded Kenyatta and Odinga meet him for talks. [nL8N1MT0XK]

The board, known as the IEBC, set the meeting for 1130 GMT in Nairobi but then said it had been postponed to an unspecified date and time. Chebukati later tweeted that he had met Odinga and was “looking forward” to meeting Kenyatta, though it was not clear if the president intended to respond to his call.

Opposition demonstrations, which have led to confrontations between police and protesters, and divisive rhetoric by politicians have stoked uncertainty in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy and a stable Western ally in a chaotic region.

Speaking at a campaign rally in the western town of Saboti late on Wednesday, Kenyatta said the priority was for Kenyans to go to the polls on the set date.

“We are not interested in telling the IEBC what to do. We want them to prepare so Kenyans can vote on the 26th,” he said.

However, Odinga, whose call for mass protests on election day has sparked fears that the crisis could turn violent, called for serious talks on the impasse after meeting Chebukati.

 

STALEMATE

Odinga said his withdrawal should force the commission to start a fresh 90-day electoral cycle, including fresh candidate nominations. The election board says the vote will go ahead.

Chebukati’s call for a meeting with the candidates followed the flight of one IEBC commissioner to New York. Roselyn Akombe said she had fled due to threats and said the planned election would amount to a mockery of democracy.

The ruling Jubilee party filed a petition in the Supreme Court on Thursday alleging opposition politicians were in contempt of court for obstructing a re-run by withdrawing from the race and by ordering supporters to continue protests including during trainings of election staff in western Kenya.

“The current political climate indeed strikingly resembles the period prior to 2007-2008 post-election violence,” said Francis Ole Kaparo, chair of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a government body in charge of preventing hate speech. Following the disputed 2007 poll, more than 1,200 Kenyans were killed.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and John Ndiso; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

 

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com