After tough competition, Kenyan opposition leader rejects election result

NAIROBI, Kenya – Speaking for the first time since losing Kenya’s hard-fought presidential election, opposition leader Raila Odinga reje...


NAIROBI, Kenya – Speaking for the first time since losing Kenya’s hard-fought presidential election, opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the result announced on Monday and vowed to pursue “all legal options,” apparently signaling that the dispute that has gripped the East African country is likely to be decided in its Supreme Court.

The narrow victory pronounced by the electoral commission in favor of his rival, William Ruto – 50.5% of the vote against 48.9% for Mr Odinga – was “a travesty and a blatant disregard for the constitution and laws of Kenya”. , Mr. Odinga said. told his supporters at a conference center in downtown Nairobi.

The results are “null and void and must be overturned by a court”, he added.

Kenya’s election was widely hailed, until yesterday, as one of the most peaceful and organized polls. But Mr Odinga’s accusations have plunged the country into a period of uncertainty that is expected to last for weeks or more.

However, his decision to take his challenge to the courts rather than the streets came as a relief to many Kenyans who feared the row could escalate into violence.

“We picked up stones and tires to burn them; we were ready to go,” said Alex Shisia, a 46-year-old bus driver and self-proclaimed “Odinga Unconditional” who had come to hear his boss speak on Tuesday. “But we’re leaving and coming home.”

A series of flattering newspaper headlines greeted Mr. Ruto, who is currently vice president, on Tuesday. He moved quickly to cement his status as president-elect, issuing a call for national unity on Monday and receiving congratulatory phone calls from leaders of other African nations.

He assured his rivals there was ‘no room for revenge’ after a fierce campaign and offered an olive branch to supporters of Mr Odinga, who, at 77, is running his fifth candidacy for the presidency, after losing his first four attempts.

In his speech, Mr. Odinga accused the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, of behaving like a “dictator” to swing the vote in favor of Mr. Ruto. And Mr Odinga praised four election commissioners who stormed the counting center on Monday, moments before the expected announcement of the result, saying Mr Chebukati had ignored their concerns about the counting process.

Mr Ruto, for his part, called their actions a “side show”, along with any suggestion that they tainted the legality of his election.

The four dissenting commissioners, appointed last year by Mr Odinga’s political ally, President Uhuru Kenyatta, gave a press conference on Tuesday where they set out their reasons for refusing to verify the tally.

Their words were broadcast on a large screen in the conference room where Mr Odinga’s supporters waited to hear him speak. They cheered when one of the dissenting commissioners, Juliana Cherera, called the result “unconstitutional”.

But the commissioners undermined their own case with seemingly flawed calculations.

Ms Cherera told the press conference they discovered a 0.01% error in the tally, which equated to 142,000 misplaced votes – a significant figure in an election decided by around 233,000 votes.

In fact, that proportion stands at 1,420 votes – an apparent error that sparked a wave of social media derision led by Mr Ruto’s supporters.

Kenyans are nervous because their last three elections have ended in disputes, again over claims that Mr Odinga was cheated out of victory, which escalated into protracted stand-offs and, in 2007, ethnic violence in in which more than 1,200 people were killed.

But this time, Mr Odinga’s call for calm – “Let no one take justice into his own hands”, he said in Nairobi – seems to have been heard in his strongholds in western Kenya and in the sprawling Kibera slum in Nairobi, where the streets were largely quiet on Tuesday.

Burnt tires, sticks and stones strewn on the streets of Kisumu county, in western Kenya, witnessed clashes between protesters and security forces on Monday night. But by Tuesday afternoon, malls and restaurants were reopening in Kisumu, the county’s lake capital, where even traffic jams began to form.

In the low-income neighborhood of Kondele, young men gathered in groups in shimmering streets of broken glass to ruminate on Mr. Odinga’s speech.

“We won’t fight, we won’t take to the streets,” said Tony Odhiambo, 25, who works in an internet cafe. “We will wait for the court to take its side.”

Yet the presidential dispute has opened a deep chasm in Kenya’s power structures and strained its state institutions. And on Tuesday, many were still processing the chaotic scenes that erupted a day earlier, at the height of the election.

As thousands waited for the results, the four dissident election commissioners argued behind closed doors for hours, refusing to endorse the results.

Top aides to Mr Odinga held an impromptu press conference to denounce the counting center as the “scene of a crime”. Then his supporters went wild in the room, plunging the event into complete disarray.

Odinga’s supporters rushed to the dais, threw chairs on the ground and clashed with baton-wielding security officials. The foreign officials fled. A choir continued to sing.

Half an hour later, Mr Chebukati appeared, noting that two of his commissioners had been assaulted before declaring Mr Ruto the winner.

Western allies refused to endorse his victory, obviously awaiting the outcome of any legal proceedings. But the United States Embassy recognized the leadership of the beleaguered Mr. Chebukati with A declaration who hailed the result as “an important step in the electoral process”.

On Tuesday, the government’s Kenya Gazette published a special edition officially declaring Mr Ruto president-elect, in a move that underscored the legitimacy of his victory.

An electoral officer who disappeared from a polling station in Nairobi has been found dead 200 km away, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on Kenya’s southern border, local media reported. It was not immediately clear if his death was related to the vote.

A statement on Tuesday from the Election Observation Group, a respected coalition of civic and faith-based groups, could make Mr Odinga’s challenge more difficult. At a press conference in Nairobi, he released a detailed analysis of published election results, comparing them with its own tally, and concluded that they were broadly accurate.

Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Kisumu, Kenya.

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Newsrust - US Top News: After tough competition, Kenyan opposition leader rejects election result
After tough competition, Kenyan opposition leader rejects election result
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