Kenya politics: President wins a second term

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
No abstract is available.
Politics, News Analysis
Political Geography

Uhuru Kenyatta, seeking a second term as president, and his Jubilee Party both performed better in elections on August 8th than had been expected, while the main presidential challenger, Raila Odinga, and his National Super Alliance (Nasa), did worse. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) proclaimed Mr Kenyatta the winner on August 12th. Nasa refuses to accept the results, claiming the IEBC's computer systems were hacked; this poses a risk of instability and violence, although clashes to date have been localised and not widespread. No corroborating evidence for Nasa's claims has yet emerged, while a wide range of international observers assessed the election to be broadly free and fair.

Mr Kenyatta took 54.2% of valid votes (8.2m), as against 44.9% (6.8m) for Mr Odinga. Mr Kenyatta therefore performed more strongly than in 2013-when he defeated Mr Odinga by a 50.5% to 43.7% margin-and slightly better than opinion polls had predicted. A closer look at the presidential results shows two related trends that worked in Mr Kenyatta and Jubilee's favour. First, overall turnout dropped to 79% (from 86% in 2013), but the decline was most noticeable in Nasa heartlands, allowing Jubilee to win by larger margins in its core areas than the opposition did in its. Second, Mr Kenyatta also performed strongly in several swing areas on his way to winning 25 counties, compared with 22 for Mr Odinga. It seems that Nasa-despite being a broader-based coalition than its predecessor in 2013-failed to enthuse voters, perhaps because of running a largely negative campaign based on attacking Jubilee's record. Flagship Jubilee projects (such as a new railway) and maize subsidies in the run-up to the poll (to stop runaway inflation) may also have helped the incumbent win another term.

Nasa refuses to accept defeat

The rejection of the results by Mr Odinga and Nasa, and their allegations of fraud-despite a lack of clear evidence-poses a degree of risk to Kenya's stability. The official result on August 12th was marked by protests and clashes with police in several Nasa strongholds (such as Kisumu), leaving about 24 people dead, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, but the troubles have been short-lived and localised to date. While not overtly encouraging violence, some of Mr Odinga's statements have been ambivalent (saying, for example, "I don't control the people"), leading to concerns about the content of his next planned announcement on August 15th.

Adding to the tension, Nasa is currently refusing to turn to the courts to seek redress, citing the Supreme Court's dismissal of opposition complaints after the 2013 election, although the party has until August 18th to make a final decision on legal action. Nasa's behaviour appears to be short-sighted, anti-democratic and a threat to the constitution; the leadership may be using the threat of violence to extract concessions from Jubilee, such as, for example, securing positions in the executive. However, the clashes to date, although concerning, are of a different nature (pitting protesters against police) and of a smaller-scale than the debilitating, inter-ethnic violence that followed the 2007 election.

Elections for other bodies are incomplete

Results for the National Assembly, Senate, county governors and county legislatures are incomplete, although it seems that Jubilee gained more seats in parliament than in 2013, while Nasa's tally has shrunk. A preliminary count suggests that Jubilee has 164 seats in the 349-seat National Assembly (12 short of a majority), with Nasa on 124 and others on 49 (including 20 independents), leaving 12 nominated members still to be chosen (of which Jubilee may get six). However, despite falling just short of an outright majority, Jubilee will probably co-opt some smaller parties or independents to reach the threshold. Jubilee appears to have a stronger grip on the Senate, having secured a majority of the 47 seats (one for each county). The new parliament will officially open on August 22nd, while the president will be sworn in on August 29th.

If the results are confirmed, Jubilee will have greater authority in the next parliament than the previous one, by a small margin, which will facilitate the passage of legislation. In addition, a win for the incumbent heralds continuity, including the possible reappointment of some ministers, such as Henry Rotich at the Treasury. However, the transition from a centralised to a devolved political structure, under the 2010 constitution, will remain challenging, and marked by power struggles within and between all branches of government. Some county governors, for example, face county assemblies dominated by opponents from other parties.

Impact on the economy

A quick and decisive win for Mr Kenyatta-who avoided the need for a run-off by crossing the 50% threshold in the first round-and the maintenance of the current policy framework (and personalities too, in some cases) offers the hope of a rebound in economic activity. Growth has been subdued in 2017 to date, amounting to 4.7% year on year in the first quarter and possibly less in the second quarter-because of drought, slow credit growth and pre-election uncertainties-before a further slowdown for a week on either side of election day, when many businesses closed. However, there are two main threats to a quick recovery, economic and political. On the economy, some constraints, such as the controversial cap on lending rates, will take time to change, while fiscal policy may become tighter after election-related spending. On the political front, Nasa's rejection of the results, the potential for fresh violence and the possibility of a legal challenge (if Nasa reverses its current stance towards the courts) will perpetuate the period of uncertainty, although the duration is hard to predict. We currently believe that Nasa will modify its intransigent stance, perhaps by making a belated appeal to the courts, but there is a risk of a further rise in tension before the situation stabilises.

Data provided by: