Concerted efforts are being made to prevail upon President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to reach a compromise ahead of the October 26 election.
A caucus comprising religious leaders, representatives of non-governmental organisations, senior government officials, business leaders, workers’ representatives and some diplomats, has been holding meetings in Nairobi to agree on a roadmap.
The leaders are looking at two options: To ask President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to agree on postponement of the election to guarantee a credible process; or to persuade Mr Odinga to reconsider his decision and participate in the election — with the promise that his concerns will be addressed after the poll.
The members of the caucus reached the decision to push for dialogue after a number of experts invited to address them warned that, in the prevailing circumstances, it was impossible for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to hold a credible election. The experts also warned of the risk of protracted demonstrations and unrest if the election proceeded.
Kenya was plunged into a political crisis after Mr Odinga withdrew from the October 26 election, citing IEBC’s failure to effect the reforms demanded by his National Super Alliance (Nasa). The the IEBC has announced it will proceed with the election and President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party says the poll will go on, with or without Mr Odinga.
On Wednesday, Kenyans woke up to news that one of the IEBC commissioners, Roselyn Akombe, had resigned and fled to the US, citing frustration and threats to her life. She said the IEBC was captive to political party interests and could not hold a credible poll.
The chairman of the commission, Wafula Chebukati, also said he could not guarantee a credible poll unless politicians allowed them to work without interference.
These developments, coupled with the street protests called by Nasa to demand changes at IEBC, have rattled the various sectors, culminating in the calls for dialogue.
The caucus held its first meeting at the Methodist Guest House on Wednesday, and a second one at the Intercontinental Hotel in the city centre on Thursday. The leaders were expected to hold more meetings at the weekend before unveiling the roadmap on Monday.
The roadmap is expected to be presented to IEBC and the two main political groupings, Jubilee and Nasa.
Insiders at the caucus told The EastAfrican that the team was seriously exploring the option of having the elections postponed beyond the 60 days provided for in the Constitution: “Our legal experts have advised that all parties to the presidential election can jointly file a consent asking the Supreme Court to allow an additional 90 days, and issue guidance on how the country would be governed once the initial 60 days lapse,” a source from the caucus told The EastAfrican.
The consent option would require the parties to explain why it is not possible to implement the Supreme Court decision and a clear roadmap of how they plan to implement them.
The Supreme Court on September 1 gave two orders to the IEBC; to hold fresh presidential elections within 60 days, and in strict conformity with the Constitution and the applicable election laws.
IEBC chairman Mr Chebukati says the electoral body is capable of holding a presidential election on October 26, but it would be difficult for it to conduct it strictly according to the orders of the Supreme Court.
But one of the Nasa lawyers, Dr Ben Sihanya, told The EastAfrican that, while the consent approach is possible, they are yet to be officially engaged on the issue and maintained that it is IEBC and Jubilee that have been blocking reforms since the Supreme Court ruling on September 1.
“Our position is that IEBC and Jubilee have been consistent in not following the Constitution. If they were willing, all these changes we are calling for, from fresh nominations, the changes within the commission to fresh tenders could have been easily accomplished within 60 days,” said Dr Sihanya.
Jubilee insiders said they had no knowledge of the discussions, but maintained that the party was not interested in any settlement outside the election.
Another meeting was convened on Thursday for workers’ representatives at the German ambassador’s residence and were attended by nine other ambassadors from the European Union.
The diplomats wanted to hear the trade unionists’ views on the current state of affairs and asked them to prevail on their members not to participate in the protests against IEBC. The diplomats told the unionists that they had been meeting with other groups, with little success.
That same Thursday, Mr Odinga met Mr Chebukati, and with US ambassador Robert Godec and two other Western diplomats. Mr Odinga was accompanied by Musalia Mudavadi, a co-principal in Nasa.
The US embassy in Nairobi confirmed that Mr Godec has been involved in the ongoing behind-the-scenes efforts to help the country find a solution to the current crisis, but maintained the US government is neutral in the ongoing efforts.
“The US government’s neutrality in the Kenya election remains even as we encourage dialogue to help Kenyans to hold peaceful and credible election according to their Constitution,” said Fina S. Evans, information officer at the US Embassy in Nairobi.
Kenyatta, Odinga stance
After the meeting, Mr Odinga said he could reconsider his decision if IEBC implemented the demanded reforms, while the IEBC chairman promised to make an announcement after meeting with President Kenyatta on Monday.
In public, both Jubilee and Nasa maintained their hard stance, with President Kenyatta addressing several campaign rallies and saying the election would proceed. The acting minister of Internal Security, Dr Fred Matiang’i, has gazetted October 26 as a public holiday to allow Kenyans to vote.
President Kenyatta says he will not talk with the opposition before the repeat election, and his Jubilee ruling party has sued Mr Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka for seeking to block the election.
Jubilee secretary general, Raphael Tuju said in his affidavit filed on October 19, “The petitioners intend to create serous impediments to the 1st [IEBC] and 2nd [Mr Chebukati] respondents preparations for fresh election as ordered. It is imperative for the maintenance of the rule of law and good order that the authority and dignity of the court is upheld.”
Mr Odinga maintains that there will be no election on October 26 if electoral reforms are not carried, instead calling on his supporters for peaceful demonstrations on the same day.
“We reject attempts by some internal and external actors to blackmail Nasa into being complicit in a sham election. Such actors are cynically trying to put our demonstrations at par with the systematic plot in IEBC to undermine the will of the Kenyan people. Instead of such actors helping safeguard democracy, they are trying to apportion criticisms in a warped logic that ‘both sides’ must be to blame,” said Mr Mudavadi, the Nasa campaign manager.
On Friday, Mr Odinga asked his supporters to remain calm and await his word on October 25.
A constitutional expert who has been involved in some of the discussions advised that the proposed dialogue should come after the election to achieve long-term changes.
“Everyone is focused on the election, yet all the election will do is show that the country is divided. My view is that the election should be held, then we’ll be forced to sit and talk about the divisions, implementing the remaining parts of the Constitution, and even possibly changing from a presidential system to a parliamentary one,” he said.