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Odinga rejects election result, throwing Kenya into turmoil

By Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail

Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga delivers an address to the nation at his campaign headquarters in downtown Nairobi on Aug. 16. (BEN CURTIS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Losing candidate Raila Odinga has rejected the official results in Kenya’s presidential election, vowing to launch a legal challenge of the results in a move that throws the country into a new chapter of political turmoil.

Mr. Odinga, who won 48.9 per cent of the vote, slightly behind the 50.5 per cent of president-elect William Ruto, said the results announced on Monday were “null and void” and must be quashed by the courts.

“Kenya faces a grave legal and political crisis,” Mr. Odinga said on Tuesday in his first speech since the results were declared. He said the announcement was “a travesty and a blatant disregard of the constitution and the laws of Kenya.”

He did not provide evidence for his rejection of the results, except to say that the election commission’s chairman, Wafula Chebukati, did not have the legal right to declare an election winner if a majority of the election commissioners have not approved his decision. This argument has been dismissed by Mr. Ruto and a number of legal experts.

Mr. Odinga’s speech appeared to be co-ordinated with a nearly simultaneous press conference by four dissident election commissioners, broadcast to his audience just minutes before his speech. The dissident commissioners made points similar to those of Mr. Odinga, saying that the chairman did not have the power to issue the results without a consensus among the seven commissioners.

Analysts noted, however, that the four dissidents had been nominated last year by Kenya’s outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has strongly supported Mr. Odinga’s candidacy. The dissident commissioners did not offer any alternative vote tally. They also weakened their argument with a mathematical error that was quickly spotted by alert Kenyans.

The commissioners claimed that the results contained an “absurdity” because the official vote percentages of the four presidential candidates added up to a total of 100.01 per cent of the 14.2 million votes. They said the discrepancy of 0.01 per cent would amount to 142,000 missing votes. But as many Kenyans pointed out, the discrepancy in fact was only 1,420 votes, and the total of 100.01 per cent itself was a normal result of rounding errors after each candidate’s percentage had been rounded.

In another blow to the credibility of the dissidents, a report on Tuesday by the independent Elections Observation Group said the official results were “consistent with” the results of a parallel vote count, conducted by about 1,000 observers from the Kenyan-based group.

Regardless of the numbers, Mr. Odinga’s decision to reject the official results is an ominous sign in a country that has a history of postelection violence. In another worrisome sign, Mr. Kenyatta himself has not commented on the results, raising concerns that the government too could reject the official outcome.

An estimated 1,500 people were killed in postelection violence after the disputed 2007 election, and more than 100 died in violence after the 2017 election when the Supreme Court quashed the result because of irregularities.

Kenya’s election last week was considered the most transparent and open in the country’s history. For the first time, the voting tallies from more than 46,000 voting stations were uploaded to the election commission’s public website, within hours of the vote. But the narrowness of the presidential contest and the country’s history of electoral irregularities has heightened the risk of disputes.

Mr. Odinga and other Kenyans have a constitutional right to file a challenge to the official results within seven days, and the Supreme Court must issue a ruling within two weeks of the challenge. It has the power to nullify the results and order a new election, which it did in 2017.

While some of Mr. Odinga’s supporters protested in the streets on Monday evening, the country was generally calm. But many analysts are worried that Mr. Odinga’s rejection of the results will spark political unrest and the risk of violence. Some Kenyan shops and businesses remained shuttered on Tuesday as a precaution against attacks.

Despite rejecting the results, Mr. Odinga urged his supporters to remain calm and peaceful. “Let no one take the law into their own hands,” he said.

The body of a missing election official, Daniel Musyoka, was discovered on Tuesday near Mount Kilimanjaro, far from his home base in Nairobi, and local media reported that his body had signs of torture. He had been missing since last Thursday. Police are investigating the case.

Mr. Chebukati, the election commission chairman, said he had faced “intimidation and harassment” during the election. Some the commission’s staff were “arbitrarily arrested for unknown reasons,” he said.

The election uncertainties have already contributed to a weakening of Kenya’s currency and bond markets over the past week. “Investors seem to be jittery,” London-based Capital Economics said in a commentary on Monday night.

“Kenya’s fragile balance sheet – including a large current account deficit – mean that the economy is particularly vulnerable to a period of capital flight,” it said.

Many African leaders have congratulated Mr. Ruto on his election victory, but most Western governments have been relatively quiet. The U.S. embassy in Kenya, in a statement late on Monday, said the official results were “an important milestone in the electoral process” and urged all parties to refrain from violence and settle any disputes through existing mechanisms.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, congratulated Mr. Ruto and referred to him as president-elect in a tweet on Tuesday, in a sign that the European Union accepts the official results.

There was no statement on the Canadian government’s social-media accounts.

© Copyright 2022 The Globe and Mail Inc.


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