- - Thursday, October 12, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya — Carrying a stick and placard and chanting, “No reforms, no elections,” George Nyongesa vowed not to participate in the do-over presidential elections scheduled for this month.

“I won’t vote again,” vowed Mr. Nyongesa, 27, as he held up a placard of opposition leader Raila Odinga during a recent protest. “I cannot participate in an election that has already been rigged. We have to send electoral officials home before we can go to another election. They are all thieves. They stole our elections.”

An already tumultuous process was thrown into chaos after Mr. Odinga abruptly withdrew from the proposed Oct. 26 vote this week. The election was hastily organized after his August loss to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was thrown out over voting irregularities. With still-fresh memories of deadly violence from past contested elections, the standoff has sent fears of tribal violence and political instability soaring in East Africa’s largest economy.

The tensions escalated again Thursday when the Kenyatta government announced a ban on opposition protests in the country’s three biggest cities, including the capital of Nairobi, citing the “imminent danger of breach of peace” ahead of the vote.

The right to protest is enshrined in Kenya’s constitution, “but we shall not allow a few people while purportedly exercising their freedoms to infringe on the rights of others,” Interior Minister Fred Matiangi told reporters, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Odinga, a former prime minister who has twice lost presidential races to Mr. Kenyatta, stunned the nation by withdrawing from the Oct. 26 repeat presidential election, saying officials had not addressed legal concerns about the fairness of the process.

The decision was even more stunning because Kenya’s high court won international praise for nullifying Mr. Odinga’s apparent loss to Mr. Kenyatta in the first vote in August, citing an inability to ratify the validity of the vote counting process.

“After deliberating on our position in respect of the upcoming election, considering the interests of the people of Kenya, the region and the world at large, we believe that all will be best served by us vacating its presidential candidature,” Mr. Odinga said in a statement.

Mr. Odinga, the leader of National Super Alliance, or NASA, is also calling for his supporters to keep up countrywide demonstrations for reforms to the electoral commission. The protests have left at least 37 people dead, according to human rights groups. The clashes have traditionally pitted Mr. Odinga’s Luo tribe and their allies against President Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and affiliated ethnicities. No candidate aside from Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kenyatta received even 1 percent of the vote in August.

“All indications are that the election scheduled for 26 October will be worse than the previous one,” said Mr. Odinga. “We have come to the conclusion that there is no intention from the electoral board to make sure that the irregularities and illegalities witnessed before do not happen again.”

Going ahead with a vote

Mr. Odinga’s withdrawal from the race has thrown the Kenyan government into confusion. Election officials in particular have been scurrying. Following several emergency meetings, the commission late Wednesday announced that the election will go ahead with all eight of the candidates who ran in August. Mr. Odinga is still being considered as a candidate on the ballot despite his declaration.

Mr. Kenyatta, who heads the Jubilee Party, has stated that the elections will go on as scheduled whether Mr. Odinga participates or not. Mr. Kenyatta, who complained bitterly when his apparent victory in August was nullified, accused his longtime rival of wasting time and public resources by pulling out of the new poll ordered by the Supreme Court.

“Whether Raila likes it or not, Kenyans will participate in the repeat poll because it is their democratic right to choose a president of their choice,” Mr. Kenyatta told a campaign rally in the coastal region of Mombasa. “We will go to the ballot without Raila. I won the August elections fairly, by more than 1.5 million votes.”

Mr. Kenyatta’s supporters wondered why a second vote even needs to be held if the main challenger refuses to appear on the ballot.

“We want Uhuru to be sworn in as president since Raila is afraid of elections,” said Monica Wanjiru, a mother of three who owns a grocery shop in the Kayole slum in Nairobi. “We are tired of politics, and we need to move on as a country. Raila doesn’t want to go to elections because he knows he will lose terribly.”

But Mr. Odinga has warned Mr. Kenyatta and his supporters against that move.

“They cannot impose someone to Kenyans. We won’t allow it,” he said in a recent press conference. “Kenyans will not accept an illegitimate president.”

Distrust between the two major parties appears to be reaching new heights. After Mr. Odinga complained this month that the government had withdrawn his security detail, making it difficult to campaign, Mr. Matiangi, the interior minister, countered that the government was not obliged to protect people who want to cause chaos.

Mr. Odinga’s supporters also reacted harshly to the news of the protest bans Thursday. Opposition legislator Otiende Amollo called the directive unlawful, according to the AP, and said it would not stop the demonstrations.

The ban is “deeply disturbing,” Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the nonprofit International Center for Policy and Conflict, told the news service.

Mr. Odinga blamed international election observers, including former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, for Kenya’s problems. Mr. Kerry and other international monitors initially accepted Mr. Kenyatta’s August victory as legitimate, then recanted after the Supreme Court ruling.

“It is unfortunate that international actors who have supported Kenyans in their quest for democracy and good governance are now on the side of appeasing dictatorship in the mistaken belief that it will maintain stability,” said Mr. Odinga.

Political analysts said Mr. Odinga may be banking on a Supreme Court ruling after he unsuccessfully challenged his loss to Mr. Kenyatta in the 2013 vote. The judges at the time ruled that if one of the candidates died or abandoned the election before the scheduled date, then the parties would need to nominate candidates again.

“There will be no elections if either Raila or Uhuru pulled out on Oct. 24, two days [before] the fresh poll as ordered by the Supreme Court,” said Peter Wafula Wekesa, a political scientist at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. “Elections are about competition. One person cannot compete against himself. More important is that the aggrieved party is the one pulling out from the contest.”

Mr. Wekesa didn’t think election authorities heeded the Supreme Court’s instructions. “All indications are that there is going to be no free and fair elections on Oct. 26,” he said.

But the Kenyan Constitution also says that where only one candidate is nominated, then he or she must be declared elected, Mr. Wekesa said.

In a bid to avoid an uproar if Mr. Kenyatta wins office in an uncontested race, electoral commissioners are including all eight presidential candidates who participated in the first election, including Mr. Odinga.

But the political confusion comes as the Kenyan economy is struggling and a drought has caused food prices to skyrocket, for example. Many voters fear the Odinga-Kenyatta feud could have much larger negative ripples.

“The current political situation is hurting our businesses,” said Fidel Mburu, a hotel owner in the capital. “We have no customers because they are afraid of the daily protests. We need to conclude the elections and move on with our lives. I don’t think we need these politicians.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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