Kenyan Opposition Withdraws From Election, Triggering Crisis

Raila Odinga, opposition leader for the National Super Alliance, speaks during a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 16, 2017. Photographer: Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg

NAIROBI- Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga won’t run in a new presidential election ordered by the Supreme Court, testing the limits of the East African nation’s constitution and the power of the judiciary.

Odinga said he withdrew from the race because the electoral commission failed to make the changes necessary to avoid the problems that plagued the August ballot, which judges nullified because it failed to comply with the constitution. President Uhuru Kenyatta told supporters on Tuesday the Oct. 26 rerun would go ahead, even with him as the sole candidate.

This creates a unique legal quandary for Kenya. While its electoral law says that if one candidate withdraws the other will be declared the winner, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that in such a scenario, fresh nominations need to be called. By withdrawing, Odinga is banking on the latter taking precedence.

“We are going to a major political crisis, a major constitutional crisis,” Professor Peter Wanyande, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi, said by phone. “In a democracy, which we are by virtue of our constitution, you cannot hold an election with only one candidate.”

Uncertainty about the rerun has unnerved investors and clouded the outlook for an economy that’s already struggling to expand because of a prolonged drought. Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, and the world’s largest tea exporter is a regional hub for companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and General Electric Co. Tullow Oil Plc is among firms that may exploit an estimated 1 billion barrels of crude reserves discovered in the north of the country.

Worst Performer 

Kenya’s Nairobi Securities Exchange All-Share Index is the worst performing index in Africa and the fifth-worst performer in the world since Sept. 1, when the vote was nullified by the Supreme Court. Kenya’s currency was unchanged at 103.30 per dollar and the yield on the nation’s Eurobonds fell four basis points to 6.31 percent by 5:22 p.m. in Nairobi. 

Odinga’s withdrawal comes after his alliance failed to reach an agreement with the electoral commission in talks about changing the ways the authority will handle the vote. The court annulled the election, which Odinga lost, after saying the commission committed “irregularities and illegalities.” 

“All indications are that the election scheduled for Oct. 26 will be worse than the previous one,” Odinga told reporters Tuesday in the capital, Nairobi. “Considering the interests of the people of Kenya, the region and the world at large, we believe that all will be best served by Nasa vacating its presidential candidature in the election.” 

The opposition plans to hold nationwide protests on Wednesday, including a mass gathering in Nairobi, James Orengo, an opposition senator, said at the briefing. 

Previous disputes over elections in Kenya have led to violence, the most serious being in 2007 when clashes left more than 1,100 people dead and forced 350,000 more to flee their homes. That resulted in growth slumping to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier.

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