Kenya’s opposition leader should run in next week’s election -deputy president

Deputy President William Ruto gestures during an interview with Kenyan journalists in New York yesterday. [PHOTO: DPPS]

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s deputy president said on Tuesday the ruling party wants opposition leader Raila Odinga to participate in next week’s repeat presidential vote, a move that would help boost the legitimacy of the election.

Odinga was due to run in a repeat presidential election against President Uhuru Kenyatta on Oct. 26 but pulled out last week, citing concerns over fairness.

Deputy President William Ruto said Odinga withdrew from the race because he knew he would lose.

“Odinga is running away from a humiliating defeat,” he told journalists. “He has to find this excuse and that excuse and the other excuse to try and justify his exit.”

Opposition spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

Kenya is East Africa’s richest economy, a hub for regional trade and an ally of Western security interests. The country’s political turmoil connected to the elections has hurt the economy.

If Odinga does not participate, his supporters might refuse to recognise the election’s results and Odinga might challenge them in court.

Ruto said the government was keen that Odinga ran, but it could not force him to do so.

“Legitimacy is a matter that concerns us. And it concerns us because we believe in a democracy,” he told journalists.

Odinga challenged Kenyatta’s win in the Aug. 8 poll in Kenya’s Supreme Court, where judges annulled the results on procedural grounds.

Since then, Odinga says the election board has failed to meet a list of conditions his coalition said would guarantee fairness, including firing key personnel he blamed for mistakes during the last poll. Odinga has called for daily protests to force the reforms.

Ruto said that the election board was free to agree to all of Odinga’s demands, as long as they could still go ahead with elections.

“If they (the election board) chose to have a discussion with our competitors with a view to firing this member of staff or firing that member of that staff or changing a supplier … so long as the elections are there, we will participate,” Ruto said.

Ruto also said the protests were an attempt to create a crisis and encourage international mediation, possibly to create a power-sharing government.

“It is a manufactured situation to achieve a political end and that is what we must resist,” he said.

On Sunday, the election board ran full page adds in national newspapers showing which demands they had agreed to and why other demands were rejected. The board has agreed to more than half of the opposition’s demands but says it cannot agree to others due to time constraints.

Under the constitution, the repeat election must be held by the end of October.