Kenyans will go to the polls in March, 2013

Kenya’s next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on March 4 2013, its electoral commission said on Saturday, a vote sure to draw international scrutiny after communal bloodshed that followed a disputed 2007 ballot.

The next election will be the first since the 2007 vote that triggered fighting in which more than 1 220 people were killed, leading to prosecutions of prominent Kenyan political figures by the International Criminal Court.

It will also be the first election since the east African country adopted a new constitution.

The High Court surprised Kenyans by ruling in January that the election should be held in March 2013 and not this August as stipulated by the constitution — barring an early vote in case of a government collapse.

The electoral body that set the date conceded it could change if the coalition — created to end the bloodshed — unravels or if a legal challenge to the March poll date succeeds.

President Mwai Kibaki, who is barred by law from seeking a third term, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who leads in opinion polls in the race to replace him, have been at odds over the election date, fraying their already shaky coalition.

Analysts said they expected more controversy despite the announcement of the precise election date, and that all eyes are now on Odinga, who had pushed to hold the vote in December, to see if he will walk out of the coalition.

This could trigger early elections.

Eager to vote
Polls show a majority of Kenyans still favour elections this year, keen to vote out some legislators they consider lazy, corrupt or greedy. Many Kenyans feel their lawmakers, among the best-paid in the world, have done little to develop the country.

Isaack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), said the date had been set after “extensive consultations” with the president and the prime minister. “There is no agreement between them,” he said.

But, he added, “the country needs to know the election date, we must remove the uncertainty, anxiety and suspense surrounding the date.”

Odinga said in a statement that he prefers December to any other date for elections.

Lawmaker Martha Karua, another presidential hopeful, said on her Twitter feed that she also disagreed with the IEBC date.

“Announcing a March poll when the appeal against election ruling is a few days away is a move to influence the outcome of the appeal,” Karua said on Twitter.

Rivals
Odinga’s main rival for the country’s helm is Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenyatta quit as finance minister after the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged him with crimes against humanity over the 2007 election violence. Kenyatta rejects the charges.

He has united with a fellow accused, former higher education minister William Ruto, to block Odinga’s presidential bid.

“It is not matter of if, but when Odinga will leave the coalition,” Kwamchetsi Makokha, a political commentator, said.

“Odinga is more mentally prepared for an election, but Kenyatta and Ruto are somewhat distracted by legal issues surrounding the trial hanging over their head.”

The ICC is due to decide in May when their trial will commence. The suspects’ only hope to avoid trial is if the ICC grants their appeal to bar prosecuting them on the grounds that it has no jurisdiction over the cases.

Adams Oloo, a university lecturer on political science, said: “The date is more of an advantage to the opponents of the premier. They are not only facing the charges, but they are yet to decide who among the two will be their camp’s flag-bearer.” — Reuters

James Macharia
James Macharia works from Johannesburg via Nairobi. Reuters Bureau Chief Southern Africa, ex-deputy chief East Africa. My views. James Macharia has over 5484 followers on Twitter.
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