Less than one hour after incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of Kenya’s presidential election, he was sworn into office for a second term. Although not mandatory under Kenyan law, the procedure of a rapid turnover of power has become the standard, practiced under Kibaki four years ago, and also under his predecessor, Daniel Arap Moi in 1992. International relations professor Macharia Munene of Nairobi’s US International University says that once Kenya’s national election commission chairman rules on a presidential race, there is no turning back.
“The tradition in Kenya is that once the chairman of the national election commission makes the declaration, which is binding, then, the swearing-in ceremony is supposed to take effect immediately, or as soon as possible. So it is very normal in Kenya to have that kind of activity,” he says.
An explanation for the practice, according to Munene is so that “there should be no vacuum so that the handover, if there should be a transfer, should be done very quickly.”
But with Raila Odinga, the candidate for Kenya’s opposition ODM, bitterly disputing the final results after holding a convincing lead up until the final hours of the vote count, Professor Munene says Kenya’s leadership will not be facing smooth sailing ahead in the near future.
“It was a very narrow victory. There’s no question about it. A margin of 200-thousand votes when the total number of votes cast is about nine million, when they are separated by 200-thousand, that’s very close by any standard,” he notes.
A media coverage blackout imposed by Kibaki government has contributed to a murky picture of the president’s formula for victory. However, a third-party candidacy by ODM-Kenya party renegade Kalonzo Musyoka is known to have taken some three to four hundered thousand votes away from the two front-runners, which Munene says may or may not have added up to a margin for victory by either Kibaki or Odinga. In any case, he says a strong voter rebuttal of Kibaki’s PNU-dominated legislature in Thursday’s vote has ousted the Party of National Unity for parliamentary supremacy and given new significance to Odinga’s role as the leader of the opposition. Munene says it will take a major effort from all parties for a Kibaki-led government to govern effectively. “He will need to work very closely with other parties in order to get things done in parliament,” he says.
As for Odinga, whose Luo ethnic star may be on the rise, at least in parliament, there is no guarantee of a continuing role as foil and counterweight to Mwai Kibaki of Kenya’s predominant Kikuyu ethnic segment.
“While the party, ODM, will have a lot of influence in parliament, I do not want to say that it will translate into personal promotion. The fact that Mr. Odinga did lose the presidential election would tend to clip him a little bit. And he will be serving as maybe leader of the official opposition, which is also a very tough opposition in parliament. The party of Kalonzo Musyoka, the ODM-Kenya, did well because it garnered quite a few seats in parliament and will have some influence. So I think Mr. Kalonzo Musyoka’s star may be more on the rise than Mr. Odinga’s. I think that Mr. Odinga in the long run may be on the decline due to the fact that he failed to win,” says Professor Munene.