RAILA ODINGA warns of TROUBLE if he loses ELECTIONS on MONDAY - Financial Times

By Katrina Manson (@KatrinaManson)

Raila Odinga, a leading contender to become Kenya’s next president, has given warning of dire consequences if he is deprived of victory in Monday’s elections – citing a campaign by rivals to intimidate his supporters.

The public reaction could be “worse than last time”, said Mr Odinga, as Kenya prepares to hold its most ambitious and complex poll to date – taking place with memories still fresh of the widespread violence that followed the previous general election in late 2007.

That bloodshed brought the country to the brink of collapse. More than 1,100 people were killed and 660,000 displaced in ethnic clashes – the worst in the country’s 50 years of independence.

“If I lose, of course it will be because of blackmail and intimidation,” Mr Odinga said in an interview with the Financial Times at his ancestral home in western Kenya.

“I know that they [my rivals] are putting plans in place to try to rig these elections, but I have warned them the consequences may be worse than last time round. The people will not stomach another rigging.”

Given the danger that any protests against results could turn deadly, as they did last time, his words are sure to raise some alarm.

“He’s positioning himself to reject the result,” said an analyst of the vote in which every ballot will count.

Mr Odinga and his chief rival Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister, are rated neck and neck in opinion polls – at close to 45 points each. To win in Monday’s first round, candidates need an absolute majority and at least 25 per cent of votes polled in half the country’s 47 new counties, under the terms of a 2010 constitution. If there is no outright winner, a second round falls due in April.

Despite a barrage of peace concerts and communal prayers in the final days before the vote, tension is rising as both sides trade accusations of ethnic harassment and voter manipulation.

“I think there’s a bit of blackmail going on, basically to try to reduce numbers, particularly among my supporters and this is something that is being orchestrated by my rivals,” said Mr Odinga, some of whose comments are borne out by election observer reports.

He is the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence from Britain who later fell out with the country’s first president – Mr Kenyatta’s father. Raila Odinga has rejected suspect election results before. In 2007, he called his supporters on to the street to protest in demonstrations that quickly turned violent and in places murderous.

According to subsequent human rights reports, police shot dead more than 400 demonstrators whose protests triggered reprisal attacks from the Mungiki, an outlawed ethnic gang, who beheaded and burned their victims alive.

Mr Odinga was appointed prime minister in a settlement negotiated by international mediators that ended the unrest. Mr Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, are both facing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for their alleged roles in organising the 2008 violence.

Mr Odinga quipped that they were “Siamese twins joined at the waist by the ICC”.

Diplomats and rights campaigners are imploring losers to accept the result this time, or take their grievances to the courts rather than to the streets.

Both leading contenders have instead talked up their chances of winning in the first round. Mr Odinga says he would seek redress through the judiciary, consistently rated the most respected institution in the country following a 2010 shake-up. But he harbours some doubts.

“The thing is that the weaknesses within our criminal justice system are becoming apparent. We’ve made very substantial progress in the reform but it’s still not there,” he said.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, whose job it is to swear in the new president and preside over any legal challenges, has complained of death threats and state interference in the run-up to the vote.

Both Mr Mutunga and Mr Odinga have suggested that parts of the government apparatus are biased in favour of Mr Kenyatta who, Mr Odinga says, draws significant support only from his Kikuyu ethnic group. Mr Odinga perceives an ethnic bias towards the Kikuyu in almost every institution of the state.

“[The retiring president Mwai Kibaki] is only comfortable working with the people from his tribe; Uhuru will not be different. These people don’t really want to unite the country,” said Mr Odinga, adding that he would appoint Kenyans from all ethnic groups to government and would be willing to include Mr Kenyatta, too, in order to create “a win-win situation”

Financial Times


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