NAIROBI: Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday shocked the country by withdrawing his candidacy for the fresh presidential election ordered by the Supreme Court, saying the election commission has not made changes to avoid the "irregularities and illegalities" cited in the nullified August vote.
It was Odinga's legal challenge that led the court to nullify the election that President Uhuru Kenyatta won. It was the first time a court had overturned the results of a presidential election in Africa. The court ordered a new election, set for Oct. 26.
Kenyatta said the election will go ahead despite Odinga's withdrawal, telling supporters that "there is nowhere the constitution says Raila Amollo Odinga has to be on the ballot."
Odinga told supporters that "there's no intention" on the part of Kenya's election commission to undertake any changes before the new vote. He said the commission had "stonewalled meaningful deliberations" on reforms to ensure the election is credible.
He warned that the upcoming vote could be run worse than the first one was.
In response, the election commission said on Twitter that it was meeting with its legal team and "will communicate way forward." It also tweeted a letter it sent on Tuesday to Odinga's opposition coalition saying that "we have taken the necessary steps to guarantee the integrity of the fresh presidential elections."
Odinga had called for countrywide protests to urge reforms to the commission ahead of the new election.
The Supreme Court on Sept. 1 nullified Kenyatta's August re-election, citing illegalities in the vote and the election commission's refusal to allow scrutiny of its computer system. Justices said that by failing to allow the scrutiny of the computers, the commission failed to disprove Odinga's claim that hackers infiltrated the servers and manipulated the vote in favor of Kenyatta.
Kenyatta has said he does not want changes to the election commission. His Jubilee Party has instead used its parliamentary majority to push for changes in the electoral law ahead of the Oct. 26 vote.
The opposition says the changes are meant to make the transmission of election results a manual process that would have fewer safeguards against electoral fraud and would make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to annul an election.
"The only election the Jubilee administration is interested in is one that it must win, even unlawfully," Odinga said.
Kenyatta has said that even if Odinga won the fresh election, the ruling party's majority in parliament would impeach him.
This election had been seen as the last try at the presidency for the 72-year-old Odinga, a longtime candidate and the son of Kenya's first vice president. He and Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president, also faced off in a 2013 election marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging.