Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday rejected outright the result of last week’s “sham” election, vowing to fight on after the protest-hit poll that handed President Uhuru Kenyatta a landslide win.
“This election must not stand. If allowed to stand, it will make a complete mockery of elections,” he said in his first remarks on Thursday’s presidential re-run, which his supporters boycotted en masse.
Without change, “elections will become coronation rituals,” Odinga warned.
The vote, which saw Kenyatta winning with 98 percent of the votes cast, was the chaotic climax of two months of political drama and acrimony triggered by the Supreme Court’s overturning of an initial August poll over widespread irregularities.
But Odinga did not say whether he would once again petition the Supreme Court to have the vote annulled, as he did back in August.
He spelt out a campaign of non-violent protest and disobedience that would ensure the government had “no peace” so long as there was no change.
The remarks are likely to extend the political uncertainty that has paralysed the country since September 1.
Despite his successful bid to throw out the results of the August election, Odinga withdrew from the re-run some two weeks beforehand, citing concerns the new vote would be neither free nor fair.
Last week, the 72-year-old leader pledged to transform his National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition into “a resistance movement” that would spearhead a campaign of “civil disobedience.”
On Tuesday, he laid out plans for a programme of “vigorous” political action including “economic boycotts, peaceful processions, picketing and other legitimate protests.”
“If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government,” he declared.
– Odinga ‘the unpredictable’ –
In his western stronghold of Kisumu, Odinga’s highly-anticipated speech drew a mixed reaction.
“It was a very good speech,” nodded Linah Awuor, 42, who was selling plastic jerrycans in Kibuye market, saying she hoped the government would hear his “message of peace”.
“I am happy that it’s peaceful. It was not good for business lately, and I hope it will get better now.”
And Nixon Juma, a 25-year-old who said he had taken part in every protest since August, said he was happy to follow Odinga’s leadership.
“Raila has said dialogue first, so dialogue it is. We will see what happens,” he said. “Raila knows that he can count on us, we are here, and we will be waiting for his word.”
But 21-year-old taxi driver Samwell Ochyeng was a bit nonplussed, saying Odinga was definitely living up to his nickname Agwambo, a Luo word which translates as “the unpredictable”.
“I don’t understand, I am a bit disappointed. We were waiting for a crucial announcement, and he comes up with this speech,” he said.
But in the end, they would follow, he said. “We are waiting, and whatever he says, we’ll do.”
Aside from some scuffles after the results were announced, things have been largely calm for the past four days although security was stepped up Tuesday as more than a million pupils aged between 13 and 15 began sitting their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.
– Victor but at what cost? –
In his victory speech on Monday, Kenyatta hailed the result as vindication of his triumph in the August poll which was later overturned.
But it proved to be a bittersweet victory.
Turnout was just 38.8 percent, marring the credibility of a vote that has deeply polarised the East African nation, sparking months of bitter infighting, legal wrangling and violent protest.
The last few months of chaos drew a sharp rebuke on Tuesday from the European Union’s election observer mission.
“Actions by both sides of the political divide have been damaging to the electoral process and have put the people and institutions of Kenya in an extremely difficult position,” it said.
“Such a divisive electoral process, with accompanying violence, has been detrimental to Kenya’s democratic functioning and the rule of law, as well as its prosperity,” the mission said.
And it stressed the “urgent need for dialogue between the two sides… and for grievances to be addressed through democratic and judicial channels”, saying the onus was on the leaders to “find a way out of the current impasse”.
But from a technical point of view, it said the actual polling and counting process appeared to be “generally well administered” with some technical improvements evident in the results process.
The political crisis is the worst to hit the country since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.