Kenya’s Odinga says presidential election result a ‘travesty’

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Kenya's opposition leader Odinga addresses the nation after Ruto declared president-elect

By George Obulutsa and Ayenat Mersie

NAIROBI/KISUMU (Reuters) -Kenyan politician Raila Odinga rejected as a “travesty” the result of the Aug. 9 presidential election he was declared to have lost to Deputy President William Ruto and warned on Tuesday of a long legal crisis facing Kenya’s democracy.

His first comments on the result came after four of the seven election commissioners said they stood by their decision a day earlier to disown figures announced by electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati.

The dramatic series of events has raised fears of violence similar to what followed disputed polls in East Africa’s richest country in 2007 when more than 1,200 people were killed and again in 2017 when more than 100 people died.

Overnight, Odinga’s supporters battled police and burned tyres in the western city of Kisumu and the capital Nairobi’s huge Kibera slum, but calm had returned to the streets by Tuesday morning.

“Our view is that the figures announced by Chebukati are null and void and must be quashed by a court of law,” said Odinga, a veteran opposition leader and five-time presidential candidate who was backed this time by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“What we saw yesterday was a travesty,” he told reporters, but appealed to his supporters to remain peaceful. “Let no one take the law into their own hands,” he said.

Odinga broadcast the dissenting commission members’ news conference at his own venue before taking the stage. He said he was not yet prepared to announce specific legal steps.

Odinga has until next Monday to file a challenge with the supreme court.

Speaking for the four commissioners, electoral commission deputy chair Juliana Cherera said the results showing Ruto winning with 50.49% were erroneously aggregated and that Chebukati had disregarded concerns about the tally raised by other commissioners.

Cherera later said that one of her main claims was based on a mathematical error. She had originally highlighted that the vote percentages for the race’s four candidates added up to 100.01%, saying the additional 0.01% represented 142,000 votes, enough to potentially sway the election.

Ruto defeated Odinga by about 233,000 votes.

Responding to a Reuters query, Cherera later acknowledged that 0.01% of the 14.2 million votes cast was actually 1,420, but said the tally still showed a lack of quality control of the data.

Reuters was unable to reach the election commission’s spokesperson for comment.

STREETS QUIET

With memories still fresh of post-election bloodshed, Odinga has faced calls from home and abroad to commit to resolving any concerns in the courts.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with Ruto on Tuesday and hopes to speak with Odinga on Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding Guterres hoped the electoral process would be completed in accordance with the law.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price urged parties to work together to “peacefully resolve any remaining concerns about the election” through existing dispute resolution mechanisms and called on political party leaders to urge supporters to remain peaceful.

“We hope to see that calm and patience prevail,” Price told reporters, adding that Washington will continue to be in close touch with Kenyan partners.

At a crowded restaurant in Odinga’s stronghold of Kisumu there was sporadic applause as supporters watched his statement rejecting the results and calling for peace. Outside the streets were quiet.

“There is no need for protest because we have evidence that Ruto rigged this thing,” said Justin Omondi, a businessman and Odinga supporter.

Even so, the protests overnight showed how quickly tensions could escalate. Many shops in Kisumu were shuttered on Tuesday, and roads were dotted with stones and marks from burned tyres.

Nancy Achieng arrived on Tuesday morning to find her roadside food stall in the Kondele neighbourhood destroyed.

“I’ve lost the election and I’ve also lost my business,” said Achieng, who had been selling beans, chapati and roasted maize there for two years.

Kenya’s Eurobonds slipped after the statements by Odinga and the commissioners but were still up on the day having recovered some of the sharp losses seen on Monday.

Its 2024 dollar-denominated bond was up 1.86 cents on the dollar at 88.5 cents at 1400 GMT compared to over 92 cents late last week.

Ruto would face an economic and social crisis as well as rising debt. Poor Kenyans already reeling from the impact of COVID-19 have been hit by soaring food and fuel costs while a devastating drought in the north has left 4.1 million people dependent on food aid.

The 55-year-old Ruto made Kenya’s class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers”, but in his victory speech on Monday vowed to be a president for all Kenyans.

Outgoing president Kenyatta, who could not run after serving two five-year terms, fell out with his deputy Ruto and backed Odinga.

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri, George Obulutsa and David Lewis in Nairobi, Ayenat Mersie and Kevine Omollo in Kisumu; Additional reporting by Rachel Savage in London, Michelle Nichols in New York and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by James Macharia Chege and Aaron Ross; Editing by Catherine Evans, Tomasz Janowski and Cynthia Osterman)

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