Chaotic Kenya primaries a preview of March poll

AP News
Posted: Jan 21, 2013 11:51 AM
Chaotic Kenya primaries a preview of March poll

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Political parties on Monday announced the names of those who won Kenya's primary elections, which observers said were flawed and served as a bad sign for March elections.

Violent protests hit pockets of Kenya's third largest city, Kisumu, over the weekend after many candidates said that the voting process was unfair and that party bosses favored certain contestants in their nominations.

Local media reported that an election official in Western Kenya died in the hospital Sunday after succumbing to stab wounds from election violence.

"The violent expression, even though on a smaller scale, is similar to that of 2008 and it must prepare us for a possible violent election... it (primaries) has given us a sneak preview of how the election would look like," said political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi.

A dispute over who won the late December 2007 presidential election led to weeks of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. Street protests over the presidential results turned to ethnic fighting between those that supported President Mwai Kibaki and those that supported his main challenger.

Kenya's elections this year should turn the page on the bloodshed of five years ago, but the risk of political violence is still unacceptably high, the International Crisis Groups said in a report released Thursday.

Anti-corruption crusader and political analyst John Githongo said the chaotic and violent primary elections showed that ethnicity remains the primary organizing principle of Kenyan politics. Most of the people voted according to tribal affiliation, he said.

He said, however, that one of the positive indications from the primaries is that voters showed that they would elect the politicians of their choice and reject attempts by seasoned politicians to influence the polls in their favor.

President Mwai Kibaki on Monday ordered security agencies to take steps to ensure peace during all of the stages leading to the general elections, and that decisive action must be taken against lawbreakers. Kibaki appealed to political parties to avoid escalating tensions that may have arisen from the nomination process.

Violence during the primaries was isolated in a handful of counties, and security forces moved fast to quell it, he said.

Most of the protests over the weekend were in Kisumu, where residents said cronies and relatives of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the top contender for the presidency, according to opinion polls, had been favored.

Odinga's elder brother Oburu and younger sister, Ruth, were vying to be gubernatorial candidates of the Orange Democratic party strongholds of Siaya and Kisumu counties respectively. Protests were sparked off when rumors spread that the two had won the nomination. But the party's election board said they had not declared them winners.

Ruth said Monday she had quit the governor's race for the sake of peace.

Two coalition parties have emerged as the strong contenders to win seats in the gubernatorial, senate and county assembly elections, all to be held on March 4.

One is the Jubilee Alliance, a coalition of parties led by two politicians facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating the 2007-08 postelection violence. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former government minister William Ruto are presidential and vice-presidential candidates in the coalition.

The second party is the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy whose key parties are led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. Odinga was second during the 2007 election for president, which he and international observers said were flawed.

Odinga came to a power-sharing deal with the winner of the 2007 race, Mwai Kibaki, who is finishing his second term as president and who is constitutionally barred from running again for a third term. The agreement helped end the political crisis that had left scores dead.