Kenya’s defeated Odinga calls presidential election outcome a ‘travesty’

Supporters of Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga in Kisumu, Kenya, on August 15, 2022.
Supporters of Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga in Kisumu, Kenya, on August 15, 2022. © Baz Ratner, Reuters

Kenya's Raila Odinga on Tuesday rejected the results of last week's presidential election that delivered victory to his rival Deputy President William Ruto.

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"What we saw yesterday (Monday) was a travesty and a blatant disregard of the constitution of Kenya," Odinga said at a press conference a day after the results were issued showing him losing by a narrow margin.

"I do not want to fully address our strategies going forward but ... we will be pursuing all constitutional and legal options available to us," the veteran opposition leader continued, while urging his supporters to maintain the peace.

After an anxious days-long wait for the results of the August 9 poll, Ruto was declared the winner, narrowly beating Odinga after a largely peaceful voting process.

The outcome was a triumph for a candidate who shook up the East African nation's politics by appealing to struggling Kenyans' economic concerns instead of their ethnic allegiances.

But the announcement did little to calm nerves, with the election commission itself split over the outcome and demonstrators in Odinga's strongholds hurling stones and setting fire to tyres on Monday.

Ruto received about 50.5% of the vote to nearly 49% for Odinga in last Tuesday's balloting, said the chairman of the election commission. But just before the declaration, four of the seven electoral commissioners told reporters they could not support the “opaque nature” of the final steps, without giving details.

Screams and scuffles broke out in the auditorium, the lectern was tossed from the stage, and police rushed in to restore order as a choir continued to sing.

Minutes later, commission chairman Wafula Chebukati announced the official results and said the two commissioners who stayed behind with him had been injured.

With the trauma of previous post-election violence still looming over Kenya, both Odinga and Ruto had previously pledged to deal with any disputes in court rather than on the streets.

But that did not stop supporters of 77-year-old Odinga – known by his nickname "Baba" ("father" in Swahili) – from packing the streets in his stomping ground in the lakeside city of Kisumu, where they clashed with police who fired tear gas to disperse them.

Protests also erupted on Monday in two Nairobi slums which have long been Odinga bastions.

No presidential poll outcome has gone uncontested in Kenya since 2002, and a Supreme Court challenge by Odinga is seen as almost certain, with his running mate Martha Karua saying on Twitter: "It is not over till it is over."

The dispute is likely to further damage the reputation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) after it had faced stinging criticism over its handling of Kenya's annulled 2017 election.

But Chebukati, who was also in charge of the IEBC in 2017, insisted he had carried out his duties according to the law of the land despite facing "intimidation and harassment".

All eyes on Odinga

Although Ruto, 55, has promised to work with "all leaders", saying, "there is no room for vengeance", all eyes will be on Odinga in the days ahead, with analysts warning that demonstrations will likely continue in Kisumu and pockets of Nairobi.

"The tightness of the final tally has inevitably increased the probability of disruptions," the Eurasia Group consultancy said in a note, adding, however, that "widespread unrest remains unlikely".

The country of about 50 million people is already struggling with soaring prices, a crippling drought, endemic corruption and growing disenchantment with the political elite.

While several African leaders congratulated Ruto, the US embassy instead issued plaudits to Kenya's voters and the IEBC, while urging political rivals to settle their differences over the election peacefully. 

Ruto, a shadowy rags-to-riches businessman, had painted the vote as a battle between ordinary "hustlers" and the "dynasties" who have dominated Kenyan politics since independence from Britain in 1963.

Any challenge to results must be made within seven days to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to issue a ruling. If it orders an annulment, a new vote must be held within 60 days.

If there is no court petition, Ruto will take the oath of office in two weeks' time, becoming Kenya's fifth president since independence.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court annulled the election after Odinga rejected the results. Dozens of people were killed by police in the protests that followed.

The worst electoral violence in Kenya's history occurred after a disputed vote in 2007, when more than 1,100 people were killed in bloodletting between rival tribes.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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