What’s going on in Kenya’s (second) presidential election?

In the last two years, I’ve been out to Kenya four times because my son has been working there. So I have more than a passing interest in the political situation in the country.

On 8 August 2017, a presidential election was held in which the incumbent was declared to have won by nine percentage points but, following protests from the leading opposition candidate, the Supreme Court ruled that the counting – if not the balloting – was procedurally unacceptable and the election must be re-run within 60 days. The second election is being held today, but the opposition is boycotting the poll because they have not achieved the changes in electoral procedures that they feel are necessary to make the poll sufficiently democratic.

Since the first presidential election, about 50 people are reported to have been killed in violent encounters. The oppositionĀ had wanted the repeat ballot to be held at a later date, but a bid to delay the election re-run fell apart after only two of seven Supreme Court judges attended a hearing this week.

In Europe and America, voting on a class basis has tended more recently to be replaced by voting on the basis of identity but, in Kenya, voting has always been on tribal lines. There are 23 tribes in Kenya with the largest being Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), and Kalenjin (12%).

The presidential election has been dominated by two coalitions of parties: one called Jubilee and the other titled the National Super Alliance or NASA. Jubilee is led by the current President Uhuru Kenyatta (who is Kikuyu) and the current Vice-President William Ruto (who is Kalenjin). NASA is headed by Presidential candidate Raila Odinga (who is Luo) and Vice-Presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka (who is Ukambani).

Both Kenyatta and Odinga – the leading candidates in the presidential election- are sons of former political leaders who dominated the early years of post-independent Kenya. Constitutionally this is the last presidential election that Kenyatta can contest while, in terms of his age, 72 year old Odinga could not really fight another presidential election. So the stakes are high.


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