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Kenya’s supreme court on Tuesday began considering two petitions to nullify Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in last month’s repeat presidential election that was overshadowed by rigging allegations.
The petitioners, a businessman and two civil society groups, claim the October 26 poll was conducted unconstitutionally and that the electoral commission was biased. They argue the agency had not been sufficiently reformed to guarantee a credible process following the supreme court’s nullification of the August election result over “irregularities” and “illegalities” in the vote tallying.
Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, withdrew from the repeat ballot because of the same concerns and urged his supporters not to vote. Most heeded his call and Mr Kenyatta won 98.3 per cent of the vote. But the turnout was only 38.4 per cent, less than half that in August. The court must rule by next Monday, according to the constitution.
Regardless of the court’s decision, however, there is a growing consensus that east Africa’s dominant economy is so politically and ethnically polarised that the crisis cannot be resolved through legal and political institutions. An Ipsos opinion poll on Tuesday found that 80 per cent of Kenyans believed their country was heading in the wrong direction.
“If nothing is done to clean up the electoral system the paralysis will perpetuate [itself],” said Dismas Mokua, an independent analyst. “Kenya needs a predictable system that can deliver unpredictable outcomes. At the moment too many people believe the outcome is always predictable.”
There are 44 tribes in Kenya but only two, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, have held the presidency since independence in 1963. Mr Kenyatta is Kikuyu and his deputy, William Ruto, is Kalenjin. Mr Odinga, a Luo, has lost four presidential elections, three of which were considered flawed.
The country’s Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sunday called for the creation of a “national dialogue forum . . . irrespective of the outcome of the supreme court”. Civil society groups and media have made similar appeals.
“Kenya is currently a deeply divided country, all because of politics,” said Monday’s editorial in the Business Daily newspaper. “The country cannot afford to continue on this path any longer, hence the urgent need to embrace the call by our religious leaders. The more our politicians continue maintaining their hardline positions, the more the country will hurt.”
The two sides, however, are making no conciliatory gestures. Mr Odinga has accused Mr Kenyatta of creating a dictatorship. His National Super Alliance (Nasa), a coalition of opposition parties, has started a “resistance campaign” to press for another election within three months. The campaign involves an economic boycott of companies with perceived links to the government and a national “people’s assembly”.
Citing calls for secession from his supporters in regions loyal to him, Mr Odinga said on Saturday during a trip to the US: “There is something seriously wrong with Project Kenya”.
Some of Mr Odinga’s supporters have promised to swear him in as president if Mr Kenyatta is inaugurated.
Mr Kenyatta has said he will not discuss the political turmoil until all constitutional challenges to his victory have been exhausted.
But many of his supporters insist there is no crisis. Raphael Tuju, the secretary-general of Mr Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee party, wrote in the Star newspaper last week: “The media, clergy, civil society groups and citizens must stop coddling political gangsterism in which political losers become some kind of above-the-law gangbangers commanding militia and alienating parts of the country from the mainstream.”
Exacerbating the crisis is the lack of consensus among those calling for dialogue over how it should happen or who should be involved.
The Catholic bishops want to include as much of society as possible while several media have said politicians should be excluded. A number of prominent civil society groups are refusing to join Nasa’s people’s assembly.
Many analysts believe the two leaders should meet first.
“The president is held hostage by his kitchen cabinet and sycophants and so is Raila,” Mr Mokua said. “It’s time for these two gentlemen to come forward and put national prosperity and security first.”
Others argue the perceived lack of inclusivity in an ethnically diverse society means Kenya should move from a presidential to parliamentary system of government.
“It doesn’t mean Jubilee won’t be in power,” said Anyang’ Nyong’o, a law professor and senior member of Nasa. “But the moment you have a parliamentary system the dynamics change. You don’t have to have one party identified with one ethnic group.”