LONDON (Reuters) – Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Friday his withdrawal from a presidential election rerun scheduled for Oct. 26 meant the poll had been “cancelled” and there should be fresh nominations for a new vote.
Odinga said that based on a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Kenya’s Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) now had 90 days to accept new nominations following his withdrawal this week from the rerun against President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kenyatta and Odinga were due to return to the polls because the Supreme Court nullified Kenyatta’s win in an Aug. 8 election, citing procedural irregularities.
But Odinga’s withdrawal this week has thrown the country into political turmoil. A regional and trade gateway, Kenya is East Africa’s richest economy and an important Western ally in the fight against militant Islamists in the region.
The opposition leader said he could return to the Supreme Court to seek a clarification, but if the IEBC went ahead with the Oct. 26 election it would be “in breach of the law”.
“If it goes ahead it is not an election, it is a selection,” Odinga told Reuters in an interview during a visit to London. “This must be done right in the interest of electoral democracy in our country.”
“As far as we are concerned, the elections are cancelled and we expect that the IEBC will return to the process of nominations shortly,” he said.
Odinga’s withdrawal had fuelled speculation about whether the vote would go ahead at all. But on Wednesday, the election board said the polls would be held as planned and all eight of the original candidates would be on the ballot.
Only Odinga and Kenyatta polled more than 1 percent in the August election.
Odinga said the only relevant law now was the Supreme Court decision of 2013 stating that if a presidential election were nullified, the election commission would hold a ballot in which the president-elect and the petitioner were the only candidates.
“That law also goes on to say that if one of the candidates dies or pulls out, the election commission is obligated to carry out fresh nominations. That is where we are right now,” he said.
“What we are demanding is that the electoral commission should respect the Supreme Court and carry out elections in accordance with the ruling,” Odinga said. “If need be we will go for clarification.”
In 2013, Kenyatta defeated Odinga in a hotly contested election. Odinga challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which ruled that Kenyatta had won fairly.
The standoff over the elections has sparked demonstrations, but the numbers of protesters has tended to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands.
Earlier on Friday, police used teargas to disperse demonstrations in Kenya’s three main cities, and shot dead two protesters in the southwestern country of Siaya, a local official said.
On Thursday, the government banned demonstrations in the centres of the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold. The interior minister said demonstrators had damaged and looted property.
Odinga said he supported the right of Kenyans to demonstrate enshrined in the constitution and accused heavy policing for any outbreak of violence.
“(The government) are talking about a benevolent dictatorship – we can assure them that the people of Kenya will not take it lying down,” Odinga said.
“The government sending the police to stop the people by throwing teargas and using live bullets, they are basically violating the fundamental rights of the people … I support the exercise of their fundamental right.”
Reporting by Karin Strohecker; editing by David Clarke