Kenyan opposition chief to focus on corruption in election re-run

Raila Odinga
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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga says he will make the mismanagement of last month’s annulled presidential vote the focus of his new election campaign, linking it to a series of political scandals.

The Supreme Court last week nullified the Aug. 8 election, ruling that incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta’s win by 1.4 million votes was invalid due to flaws in the tallying process.

“Right now, we are basically dealing with the rigging of elections, which is basically an extension of corruption,” Odinga told Reuters in an interview on Thursday, repeating his allegation, rejected by the court, that Kenyatta had deliberately manipulated the vote.

Odinga has threatened to boycott the re-run unless a series of demands are met.

The court ruling sent shockwaves through Kenya, East Africa’s richest country per capita and a relatively stable ally of the West in a region beset by conflict.

Although it caused political uncertainty, many hope it will eventually reduce the chance of political violence by rebuilding trust in Kenya’s battered public institutions.

The election commission set the re-run for Oct. 17, but Odinga reiterated his stance that he would not take part unless some electoral officials were fired and the opposition were given access to voting data that they say will prove their allegation of deliberate rigging.

The board has said different staff will be in charge of the re-run, but has not opened up the election records for scrutiny or announced any disciplinary measures.

“This election shows that Jubilee (the ruling party) have taken corruption to the stratosphere in our country … it is very regrettable, it is actually shameful that a government can preside over this fraud.”

The judges said Kenyatta was not at fault and the blame lay with the election commission, which had not followed procedures designed to allow a transparent vote. A more detailed ruling is expected this month. Jubilee has also denied manipulating the vote.

But Odinga’s words may resonate with Kenyans tired of the corruption scandals that have dominated front pages in recent years, including allegations that tens of millions of dollars went missing from the Health Ministry and National Youth Service.

The auditor-general regularly issues scathing reports about missing funds, but action is rarely taken. No top official has been successfully prosecuted.

Odinga, who presents himself as a champion of the poor, built his previous campaign on criticism of high inflation and shortages of the staple maize flour after a regional drought.

He has criticised government borrowing, and promised to lower the deficit by improving revenue collection and slashing graft. He said he would preserve the large infrastructure projects that were the centrepiece of Kenyatta’s re-election campaign.

Odinga also plans to substantially reshape Kenya’s policy towards its neighbours if he wins, setting a timeline to withdraw Kenyan troops from Somalia and calling for the release of South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, currently under house arrest in South Africa, to participate in peace talks.