Experts say fresh Kenyan polls to heal the country amid divisions

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Kenya’s fresh presidential elections slated for Oct. 7 offers an opportunity for the electoral body to salvage its tainted image after bungled polls on Aug. 8 while healing ethnic and sectarian divisions that have engulfed the country in the recent past, experts have said.

The experts interviewed about fresh presidential polls ordered by the Supreme Court on Sept. 1, said that it could radically alter Kenya’s political landscape, economy and diplomatic engagement.

“Kenyans welcome the fresh presidential election as it will set the truth. They are hoping the elections will be free and fair so that the country is able to move ahead and address growing ethnic divisions,” said Kioko Mutua, a scholar at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Development Studies.

Four out of six judges of the Supreme Court voted to annul the Aug. 8 vote where the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, was declared the winner, setting the stage for a rerun.

Kenyatta’s rival in the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA), Raila Odinga, protested his win, citing gross malpractices that included alleged hacking of gadgets used to transmit results to a national tallying center.

The apex court’s decision to nullify presidential election results that was hailed as historic has triggered a heated national conversation on the credibility and impartiality of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to oversee a rerun.

Nevertheless, experts were convinced the rerun will be held on schedule despite skepticism from some political groupings while citizens will be presented with an opportunity to chart a new beginning after enduring months of heated campaigns.

Kenyatta will face off with Odinga during the Oct. 17 polls that will be held against a backdrop of heated rhetoric over the political future of the country.

Mutua predicted that both Kenyatta and Odinga will leave nothing to chance as they campaign for the highest office in the land.

He noted the two candidates will also present contrasting visions during the campaign to woo undecided voters and avoid a runoff.

“President Kenyatta is going to cement his message that he delivered to Kenyans and that he should be given another chance to finish what he started. Odinga will be keen to poke holes on the development record of Kenyatta. He will also promise delivery on projects that Kenyatta may have abandoned,” Mutua told Xinhua.

Odinga and his ardent supporters scored a major victory when the Supreme Court invalidated Kenyatta’s electoral victory citing rampant irregularities.

His lawyers made a case for nullification of the election results by illustrating the depth of alleged malpractices during votes tallying and transmission.

The 72-year-old veteran of Kenya’s opposition politics will once again face off the well endowed incumbent at the rerun whose outcomes are hazy.

Mutua said it is hard to predict the winner of the forthcoming presidential rerun but noted the incumbent retains an upper hand based on the existing voting patterns.

“President Kenyatta has an upper hand but only if as he says the elections were not stolen. If it was free; it will be a daunting task for Odinga to cover the 1.4 million gap. Also, President Kenyatta’s supporters have a high turnout compared to Odinga,” Mutua said.

He said the turnout in Kenyatta’s strongholds in the Aug. 8 elections averaged 85 percent while the turnout in Odinga’s strongholds averaged below 70 percent.

The presidential rerun will have a huge impact on Kenya’s future stability, given the high-octane competition alongside political and financial strength of both candidates, Mutua said.

“The future of this country will depend on how the repeat of elections is conducted,” he said. “If the loser accepts defeat, if all goes well, the judgment will help strengthen other institutions because they now see judiciary is independent.”

Ken Ogembo, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, said that free, credible and transparent repeat presidential polls will test the ability to sustain peace, cohesion and economic growth of Kenya, once an oasis of peace in the politically volatile eastern Africa region.

“We hope that the election loser will accept defeat to prevent socio-political polarization,” Ogembo said, adding that it would be premature to predict the winner given that no opinion polls has so far been released to reveal the electoral strength of each candidate.

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