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Kenya's Presidential Election Rerun Further Fuels Political Crisis

October 23,2017 12:11

The rerun elections are scheduled for Thursday. But there's one big problem: Kenya's opposition leader is calling for a boycott, and the elections chief says he can't guarantee a fair election. LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST: In Kenya, there's a rerun of ...

The rerun elections are scheduled for Thursday. But there's one big problem: Kenya's opposition leader is calling for a boycott, and the elections chief says he can't guarantee a fair election.

In Kenya, there's a rerun of presidential elections scheduled for Thursday, but there's one huge problem. The opposition leader is calling for a boycott of the elections. And the elections chief says he cannot guarantee a fair vote. At the same time, Kenya's current president says Kenyans will go to the polls. All of this has thrown the East African nation deeper into political crisis. NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta has been covering this story from the beginning. He joins us from his base in Nairobi. Hello, Eyder.
SINGH: So how'd we get here? Kenya's already had one election. What happened?
PERALTA: Yeah, this thing has taken, like, more twists and turns than a soap opera. You know, I think we can sort of say that the real drama started just a couple of weeks before the August elections, when a top elections official was tortured and murdered. Then there was an election. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, claimed that the results were hacked. People took to the streets. More than 30 people were killed during those protests. And finally, the Supreme Court decided that there were just too many irregularities, so they threw out the elections and ordered new ones.
SINGH: So here we have two opposing parties. We have the electoral commission. We have the courts. Can you explain what role they're all playing?
PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, so the two most important ones are President Uhuru Kenyatta and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. President Kenyatta has been campaigning. He says, you know, he doesn't agree with the Supreme Court, but he is moving forward with a political campaign which he says he will win. And Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, has been leading protests. He says that, basically, the system is rigged, and he will not walk into a trap again.
I think one of the sort of important things to remember here is that this feud goes back to independence - to the 1960s. Odinga's father was the country's first vice president, and Kenyatta's father was Kenya's first president. And those two had a falling out. And that really still marks the political division in this country. But I think another thing that's important is that most people believe that this can end if these two men can find common ground. But that's not going to be easy.
And then, when you add the IEBC to this combo - and that's the electoral commission - you know, the Supreme Court pointed out that they had done some things wrong. But all of this sort of unraveled last week, when one of the commissioners flew out to New York saying she feared for her life. And I spoke to her. And she - what she describes as just a corrupt commission, a commission that isn't making independent decisions and one that is taking orders from political leaders.
SINGH: So, Eyder, tell me about ethnic tension. Is that what's fueling all of this political turmoil - ethnic tension?
PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing that the politicians don't talk about openly, but it's the thing that I hear on the streets a lot. I mean, and it's gotten worse this time around. You know, I hear insults based on ethnicity all the time. And, you know, I went to Western, which is an opposition stronghold, a few weeks ago. And I met this guy who is college educated, and he says he can't get a job. And he says the reason for that is because he's a Luhya, because he's of the same minority tribe as the opposition leader. And he says it's so bad that when he had a child, he gave the child a Kikuyu name so that he could benefit from the privilege that he says the ruling tribe gets in this country.
SINGH: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi keeping an eye on the presidential elections, a rerun of the presidential election's scheduled for this Thursday. Eyder, thank you.
PERALTA: Thank you, Lakshmi.
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