After Opposition Candidate Withdraws, Presidential Vote In Kenya Could Still Happen
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Kenya is mired in electoral chaos. It has held presidential elections in early August. President Uhuru Kenyatta won re-election. His opponent, Raila Odinga, challenged the results successfully, and Kenya's Supreme Court called for a new race. But now, just two weeks before Election Day, Odinga says he will not participate. NPR's Eyder Peralta explains why.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The first day of protests starts at Independence Park in downtown Nairobi. About a thousand people show up in support of Raila Odinga.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).
PERALTA: Yesterday, Odinga dropped out of the race, saying he cannot participate in a process destined to repeat the mistakes of the last elections. His supporters say the Supreme Court ruling proved that Odinga had been cheated. The elections board hasn't made any significant changes, so by running again, they say, Odinga would be walking into a trap. Pulling out is the right decision, protester Amos Otieno says.
AMOS OTIENO: Our leader is not a coward. He has faced many challenges.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We want our country. We want our country.
OTIENO: And we want our country back.
PERALTA: That last line is no accident. Kenyans identify by country but also by tribe. And during this long and contentious election cycle, tribal identity has spilled into the streets. President Kenyatta is of the majority Kikuyu tribe from central Kenya while Odinga is a member of the Luo tribe, which dominates in the west. Protesters here talk about tribe openly. Roslyn Akinyi takes shots at an elections official because he's married to a Kikuyu.
ROSLYN AKINYI: (Foreign language spoken).
PERALTA: What the election official has learned from the Kikuyus, she says, is to steal, and if he doesn't quit....
AKINYI: No election.
PERALTA: Kenya's electoral board met with its lawyers to consider Odinga's appeal, that his dropping out means the election must be held anew. But officials released a statement saying Odinga was not officially out of the race because he had not filled out the right form. They say the vote is still on track for October 26. In addition, the high court ruled that all eight candidates who were on the ballot on August 8 would be on the upcoming rerun. To Douglas Gichuki, a law professor at Strathmore University in Nairobi, the constitution is clear. He says that elections must go on. But the bigger problem is that Kenya has deep social fissures that it is trying to mend through the courts.
DOUGLAS GICHUKI: I suspect that we are trying to litigate fundamental problems of social political organization through law, and I'm not clear that law is enough to solve these problems.
PERALTA: The protest leaves the park and winds its way through downtown. Stores shutter in their wake, and standing on the sidelines, Alfred Toh just shakes his head. He's tired of the protests and worries they could turn violent.
ALFRED TOH: Political temperatures are not good. Anything can happen when you look at these people.
PERALTA: And just as these people turn a corner...
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
PERALTA: Some police have fired tear gas as demonstrators moved through an intersection.
And as customers from nearby stores gawk, a pickup truck full of security forces speeds through the busy street, one of the men firing into the air.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
PERALTA: The opposition says Kenya can expect daily demonstrations beginning next week. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.