Nairobi: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy urged the opposition on Wednesday to end unrest over alleged bias in the electoral commission, but opposition leaders said protests would continue if their demands for dialogue were not met.
To help defuse tensions, Kenyatta on Tuesday had talks with his political rival, the leader of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy Raila Odinga, but the rare meeting between the two appeared to have little impact.
The president’s office said Tuesday’s meeting yielded no deal between Kenyatta and Odinga on how to revamp the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Police in Nairobi fired tear gas at people leaving a rally of the Coalition that was fully authorised and had passed without incident, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
The next presidential and parliamentary polls in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, are not due until August 2017 but politicians are already trying to galvanise supporters in a country prone to political strife. Violence erupted after the 2007 vote and the opposition disputed the outcome in 2013.
The opposition wants the IEBC scrapped, accusing it of bias.
The commission’s electronic identification system collapsed during the 2013 election that brought Kenyatta to power. The opposition cried foul but a court declared the result valid. Odinga, who was also running for president, accepted the ruling.
In a speech at a separate event on Wednesday, Kenyatta said the opposition should use legal channels to seek changes to institutions, rather than demonstrations.
“The law is good when it favours you, but when it takes an unfavourable turn, you don’t like it. We can’t work like that. We must be a nation that follows the rule of law,” the president said in a speech at a ceremony in the town of Nakuru to mark Kenya achieving independence from Britain in 1963.
Talk or tear gas
His deputy, William Ruto, said the opposition should eschew further protests, citing a court ruling that had banned them marching. “I now wonder if we want to transact the business of Kenya over a tete-a-tete or a cup of tea, or in street engagements, clouded by clouds of tear gas,” he said.
Speaking at the Nairobi opposition rally, Odinga said there was no such court ruling.
In late April, Kenya’s High Court barred the opposition from storming the election commission’s offices, but did not forbid them from protesting. Another lawsuit brought by ruling coalition lawmakers to stop Odinga from interfering with the running of the electoral commission is still with the court.
Ruto did not elaborate on the ruling he was referring to.
Odinga also told the rally that the coalition would on Thursday appoint five of its lawmakers who, alongside their counterparts from the ruling Jubilee Alliance coalition, would meet with the electoral body on Friday for talks.
“If the talks don’t start on Friday, then on Monday we are going back to marching,” Odinga told some 10,000 supporters.
Parliament’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee had said on Tuesday it would invite the public to present their views on how to reform IEBC and other election-related issues, according to the statement from Kenyatta’s office.
“President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto intend to make their submissions to this team,” it said.
“The Presidency expects that the sessions by the … Committee will be held in public, and that they will also be televised live so that all Kenyans can hear what anyone with any views on the subject has to say.”