Accessibility links

Kenyan Leaders Reject Churches' Demand for New Elections

Leading political voices in Kenya have largely rejected a call by church leaders for new elections. While the churches have tapped into widespread public discontent with Kenya's leadership, politicians from both major factions say the country is not ready for a new vote.

This week the National Council of Churches in Kenya, a group of prominent protestant churches, delivered a scathing review of the performance of Kenya's coalition government.

The church leaders criticized politicians for failing to tackle the country's food shortage and for doing little to rein in corruption. The group said Kenya is led by "a moribund president and an ineffective prime minister."

In light of this record, the group's secretary-general, Peter Karanja, called for the country to hold new elections.

"There should be full-scale elections that produce a president widely elected by all Kenyans to take charge of the affairs of Kenya," Karanja said.

Many Kenyans would likely agree with the church leaders' diagnosis. There is widespread public frustration with corruption allegations, extrajudicial killings by the police force, a food shortage, and the slow pace of institutional reforms the country's leaders promised when they agreed to share power a little over a year ago, after disputed elections set off a wave of violence. In a recent poll, 70 percent of respondents said the government has accomplished nothing in the past year.

But so far, there have been few prominent voices backing the churches' prescription of fresh elections. Justice Minister Martha Karua, a top leader in President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity, who is seen as a likely presidential candidate in the next elections, said the country is not yet prepared to hold another vote.

"We need to go through the constitutional review before we can have elections," she said. "Kenyans have expressed the need for fundamental changes in our society. And if we do not have those fundamental changes before going to another general election, we may very well be condemning ourselves to disintegration."

The speaker of parliament, Kenneth Marende, an ally of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, agrees, saying the churches have no role to play in calling for elections. "That is the law and really, they ought to respect that law," Marende said.

Mr. Odinga also rejected the church leaders' appeal, criticizing them for staying silent during the post-election violence that killed over 1,200 people in the weeks following the December 2007 election.

The director of the Kenya chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, Wilfred Nderitu, agreed that the country was not ready for another vote, despite agreeing with the churches' criticism of the government.

"Certainly government has failed the public… But as to whether we are ready for an election right now, I would say no. The first thing that we must guard against is having a repeat of what happened a year and three months ago. We must assure that any election that we can get into would be a peaceful one," Nderitu said.

The call for elections has also been rejected by Muslim leaders, as well as by editorials and columnists in the country's major newspapers.

Nearly all the voices have focused on the need to carry out reforms, including the establishment of a new electoral commission, an overhaul of the constitution, and efforts to reconcile ethnic groups that clashed after the last vote.

But while some steps have been taken on these issues, progress has been much slower than leaders had promised a year ago. Elections are not scheduled until 2012, but nevertheless, concern is rising about the government's ability to achieve the reforms.