Odinga back to rallies in quest for poll justice, role recruiting IEBC chiefs
Kenya’s opposition has renewed quest for what it calls electoral justice, vowing it has not recognised President William Ruto’s regime. The opposition under Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition has called for a public rally this Sunday in Nairobi during which former prime minister and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga is expected to amplify his recent calls for an independent audit of the 2022 elections and their involvement in reconstituting the electoral commission.
Mr Odinga lost the last presidential election to President William Ruto by a narrow margin, but he maintains that his victory was stolen.
He unsuccessfully challenged the outcome of the election at the Supreme Court. On Monday, he told his supporters at another public rally at Nairobi’s Kamukunji grounds that he would no longer recognise President Ruto as the legitimately elected President, citing a controversial whistle blower report that shows he won. The whistle blower, said to be an employee of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC, alleges massive vote rigging, including unauthorised access to the election management body’s electronic results transmission and storage systems by foreigners to manipulate the vote count in favour of Ruto.
Supreme Court case
The vote rigging claims echo those made by Odinga and other petitioners in the Supreme Court case.
The IEBC has denied the allegations of system breaches. But its official position, as articulated by former chairman Wafula Chebukati, was sullied by four of the seven electoral commissioners at the time questioning the validity of the results he used to declare Mr Ruto as the winner of the 2022 presidential election.
The seven wrangling officials have since left — through retirement, resignation or suspension — leaving the electoral commission in a leadership limbo.
The President on Monday signed an amendment Bill on the composition of an IEBC selection panel, setting the stage for the recruitment of new electoral commissioners.
Integrity of recruitment
However, the integrity of the recruitment is already being questioned by the opposition suspicious that Mr Ruto may populate the selection panel with his cronies and influence the appointment of friendly commissioners to smooth his re-election path in 2027.
“We demand that any attempts to reconstitute the IEBC single-handedly by Mr Ruto cease forthwith so that Kenyans themselves can reconstitute the body after the firm and fair deliberations,” Odinga said Monday.
Mr Ruto and his political allies in the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition have dismissed Mr Odinga’s renewed agitation for electoral justice as a political stunt meant to try to force his way into government through a power-sharing arrangement.
The President has also ruled out a truce with Mr Odinga similar to the cooperation deal the latter agreed with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018 to calm the political tensions in the country arising from the disputed outcome of the 2017 presidential election.
Popular as the Handshake, the 2018 cooperation deal sought reforms to defuse tensions around future elections in Kenya by expanding the government structure to accommodate as many of the country’s rival ethnic elite in power as possible at any given time.
Raising political temperatures
“Every five years, the country almost comes to a standstill during elections. Investment and economic activity slow, making Kenyans lose their sources of livelihood. Political competition often escalates beyond vibrant debate into ethnic polarisation,” said a document prepared by a team of experts appointed by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to advise on reforms around the nine-point agenda of their co-operation deal.
The intransigent positions taken by Ruto and Odinga over the unravelling political situation, however, risk sparking confrontations between their supporters and those of the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition and raising political temperatures a notch.
Ahead of the opposition rally in Nairobi on Sunday, Deputy President Rigathi appeared to suggest a plan to counter possible opposition protests.