Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta opened Parliament on Tuesday by warning against divisive and destructive politics, while opposition lawmakers boycotted the legislature and rallied to demand the resignation of election officials.
Kenya held parliamentary, presidential and local elections on August 8, but the Supreme Court nullified the presidential results three weeks later, citing irregularities in the tallying process. New elections are scheduled for October 17.
While calling for unity and respect for the constitution, Kenyatta delivered a thinly-veiled warning to the opposition lawmakers who had chosen to stay away from Parliament.
“My government will not tolerate anyone intent on disrupting our hard-won peace and stability. Under no circumstances must Kenyans ever allow our free competitive processes to become a threat to the peace and security of our nation,” he said, to foot-stamping and cheering from ruling party legislators.
“We shall continue to encourage vibrant democratic competition, we shall not allow destructive division.”
As he spoke, opposition leaders held a rally in Kibera, the capital’s largest slum, rejecting the October 17 date unless officials on the election board, whom they blame for mishandling the polls, resign.
“Now, we are putting it squarely to you that the Supreme Court of this country has found you incompetent,” said Kalonzo Musyoka, running mate of Kenyatta’s presidential rival Raila Odinga.
The surprise election annulment initially raised fears of short-term political turmoil in Kenya, the region’s richest nation and a staunch Western ally in a region roiled by conflict.
But it also raised hopes among frustrated opposition supporters, who believe the last three elections have been stolen from them, that the east African nation’s tarnished courts could deliver them justice.
That hope helped tamp down protests that threatened to spark the kind of violence that followed disputed 2007 elections, when around 1,200 people were killed in ethnic bloodletting.
In a separate development, a ruling party lawmaker and a former opposition senator appeared in a Nairobi court, charged with incitement to violence over speeches they had made in the past week. Both were freed on a 300,000 Kenya shilling ($3,000) bond.
A government body monitoring hate speech says that it has seen a spike since the Supreme Court ruling. More than three times as many incidents were reported in the week following the ruling than during the whole 10-week election campaign, it said.
Meanwhile, international observers are under a harsh spotlight ahead of the re-run next month. They are accused of glossing over flaws in the election which later caused the result to be overturned.
The Supreme Court’s shock decision put foreign observers in a particularly difficult position, accused by Kenya’s opposition and many media outlets of being too quick to declare the elections were “free and fair” in a preference for the status quo over democracy.
But observers themselves — and some analysts — said this characterisation was unfair, saying enthusiastic praise for part of the electoral process was mistaken for endorsement of the whole.