Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga told CNN Friday that he would stand again for president if his “basic requirements are met” on how the presidential election is held.
Odinga pulled out of a scheduled October 26 election re-run earlier this week, saying he did not believe the country’s election commission could hold a fair vote without reforms taking place.
The re-run was ordered by Kenya’s Supreme Court after it invalidated the results of a contentious August 8 vote – which gave victory to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta – following a challenge by Odinga over irregularities.
In an interview with CNN in London, Odinga said that his coalition did not want to “facilitate another rigging of elections” by taking part in a vote where none of the issues that led to the annulment of the first vote were resolved.
But, he said, if certain requirements were met, that could change.
They include making the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) “open the server” so that the full results of the August 8 vote are known, Odinga said, as well as bringing in new firms to print voting material and electronically transmit the results, and appointing new personnel to the electoral commission.
“I know that I won. I know that I would win again. I was ready yesterday for an election but the conditions must be right so we don’t have a repeat of what happened last time,” he said.
Odinga described the Supreme Court ruling which annulled the first vote as “a historic decision not just in Africa but in the world,” but said events since then “have not inspired any confidence that the repeat is going to be any different from what happened on August 8.”
Running battles in Nairobi
The continued uncertainty has raised fears of wider unrest in the east African nation, which has suffered bloody election-related violence in the past, particularly in 2007.
Police and opposition supporters have already clashed in Kenya this week, and Odinga’s opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition has called for supporters to demonstrate every day from Monday.
“I’m concerned, I’m very, very concerned about the future and security of our people,” Odinga said of the situation.
On Friday, a CNN crew saw running battles break out between police and scattered groups of opposition protesters in Nairobi. Police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators as they sought to prevent them from entering the heart of the capital.
The protesters appeared determined to defy a government ban issued Thursday on demonstrations in the central business districts of Kenya’s three main cities, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
Asked by CNN whether he had a responsibility to stand aside to prevent violence breaking out, Odinga replied: “It is very unfortunate that it has come to this. You see a government that is trigger happy.”
Announcing the ban, Internal Security Minister Fred Matiang’i cited “the clear, present and imminent danger of breach of peace and public order, as witnessed in recent demonstrations.”
Odinga insisted the country’s constitution guaranteed the right of every Kenyan to protest peacefully so long as police were notified of the demonstration.
He also said that Kenyans were “very united” and that ethnic divisions were not playing a major role. “The people who are there on the streets come from all communities in Kenya, so they don’t just come from one particular ethnic community,” he said.
“The division between us is basically between those who want to support … the status quo and those who want change in our country. This culture crosses the entire country, it is not just one section of the country or another.”
Rights group warns against crackdown
An Amnesty International official cautioned Friday that the government’s ban on certain demonstrations was “likely to become a basis for heavy-handed police crackdowns” and warned it should not be used to target opposition backers.
“This kind of outright ban is only justifiable in the most extreme circumstances where the police would otherwise be unable to ensure public order and safety,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“If people nevertheless continue to gather to protest, the Kenyan authorities must ensure that the police response complies with international law and standards on human rights and law enforcement… They must not use this ban as a green light to crack down violently on opposition supporters.”
At least 24 people were killed when sporadic violence erupted in some areas after Kenyatta was declared the winner in the August 8 vote.
Although Kenya’s 2013 election was mainly peaceful, the country plunged into widespread violence in the aftermath of the 2007 vote. More than 1,000 people were killed in months of bloodshed after Odinga – defeated by then-President Mwai Kibaki – claimed the vote was rigged.
As the largest economy in East Africa, Kenya is a crucial trade route to the continent and provides an important buffer of stability in a troubled region.
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.