Tense Thursday finds both Uhuru, Raila under 50% in Kenya election results


Yesterday, Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announced that, in light of technical glitches in its electronic system, it would instead proceed with a hand count of the results in Kenya’s presidential election and said that it would target a Friday announcement.kenya

So no one expected a result on Thursday, but it was nonetheless a tense day.

The revamped vote count continued to show a ever-narrowing contest between the Jubilee alliance candidate, former finance minister and deputy finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and the candidate of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), prime minister Raila Odinga (pictured above).

Kenyatta, who belongs to the Kikuyu ethnic group, is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and the runner-up in the 2002 presidential election to incumbent Mwai Kibaki.

Odinga, who belongs to the Luo ethnic group, is the son of Kenya’s first vice president and longtime opposition figure Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, and the runner-up in the very closely contested 2007 presidential election — the post-election tumult led to a power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Odinga, who has served as prime minister since 2008.

He escalated tensions earlier Thursday when he alleged that the IEBC was doctoring results and pulled his agents out of the vote-counting observation, though the IEBC firmly denied any unfairness or fraud in the counting of votes, even as it has admitted and acknowledged numerous glitches in the counting process.

Although Kenyatta has led consistently since the botched vote count began, that lead is narrowing as a fuller view of national results comes into relief — given the role of ethnicity in Kenyan politics, results vary widely by region.  As of around 6:30 p.m. EST (2:30 a.m. on Friday morning, Nairobi time), with votes tallied in 170 constituencies out of 299 total, Kenyatta led with 3,705,316 votes (48.92%), with Odinga winning 3,422,275 votes (45.18%), deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi in third place with around 3.65% and ruined ballots totaling 0.997% of the total votes cast, much less than the 7% reported figure for spoiled ballots earlier this week (the IEBC has also blamed the electronic glitch for that).

If the margin remains this tight or tightens further, Kenyatta and Odinga will proceed to a runoff.  A candidate will only win after Monday’s election with an absolute majority of over 50% of the total vote (including, according to the IEBC, all ruined ballots, a position that Kenyatta’s supporters challenged on Wednesday).

A runoff would make the third-place challenger Mudavadi, who belongs to the Luhya ethnic group, a likely kingmaker.

Mudavadi, ironically, served as both Kenyatta’s 2002 running mate and Odinga’s 2007 running mate.  He’s the candidate of the Amani coalition, which includes his own Luhya-dominated political party as well as the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the longtime ruling party in Kenya until 2002, and which Uhuru Kenyatta led until 2012.  Mudavadi’s backers in KANU, such as former president Daniel arap Moi and his son, KANU’s current leader, Gideon Moi, may want to broker a reunion with Kenyatta in advance of a second-round vote, many Luhya voters supported Odinga in the current round, supported him overwhelmingly in 2007 over Kibaki, and might naturally lean toward Odinga in a runoff.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the International Criminal Court, which has indicted both Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto for their alleged role in the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008, pushed back a hearing on Kenyatta until July 9 as the prospect of a runoff between Kenyatta and Odinga became likely — a runoff scheduled to take place on April 11, the day after hearings were set to begin on Kenyatta.  Kenyatta and Ruto, the latter from the Kalenjin ethnic group, were on opposite sides in 2007, and many Kenyans, including Odinga, have criticized their trial as an intrusion on Nairobi’s sovereignty.  ICC prosecutors have also been criticized for assembling a relative weak evidential case against Kenyatta for any crimes against humanity.

Kenyans also elected new members to its National Assembly, the lower house of the Kenyan parliament, and for the first time, members to a newly-established upper house, the Senate, as well as governors and county assemblies for the 47 counties established under Kenya’s new constitution, which was adopted in 2010 and devolves significant power to county-level governments.


Should David Cameron change course over the UK budget?


The United Kingdom is closer to May 2015 than it is to May 2010, which is to say that it’s closer to the next general election than to the previous one.United Kingdom Flag Icon

With the announcement of the 2013 budget coming later this month, likely to be very controversial if it features, as expected, ever more aggressive expenditure cuts, what does UK prime minister David Cameron have to show for his government’s efforts?

The prevailing conventional wisdom today is that Cameron and his chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne (pictured above) have pushed blindly forward with budget cuts at the sake of economic growth by reducing government expenditures at a time when the global economic slump — and an even deeper economic malaise on continental Europe — have left the UK economy battered.  If you look at British GDP growth during the Cameron years (see below — the Labour government years are red, the Cameron years blue), it’s hard to deny that it’s sputtering:



One way to look at the chart above is that following the 2008 global financial panic, the United Kingdom was recovering just fine under the leadership of Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, and that the election of the Tory-led coalition and its resulting budget cuts have taken the steam out of what was a modest, if steady, economic recovery.  Those cuts have hastened further financial insecurity in the United Kingdom, critics charge, and you need look no further than Moody’s downgrade of the UK’s credit rating last month from from ‘AAA’ to ‘AA+’ for the first time since 1978.

An equally compelling response is that British revenues were always bound to fall, given the outsized effect of banking profits on the UK economy, and that meant that expenditure corrections were inevitable in order to bring the budget out from double-digit deficit.  In any event, 13 years of Labour government left the budget with plenty of fat to trim from welfare spending.  Despite the downgraded credit rating, the 10-year British debt features a relatively low yield of around 2% (a little lower than France’s and a bit higher than Germany’s), and we talk about the United Kingdom in the same way we talk about the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany — not the way we talk about Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Italy or Greece.  Given the large role the finance plays in the British economy, it wasn’t preordained that the United Kingdom would be more like France than, say, Ireland.

Nonetheless, polls show Cameron’s Conservative Party well behind the Labour Party in advance of the next election by around 10%, making Labour under the leadership of Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, a Brown protégé, implausibly more popular than at any time since before former prime minister Tony Blair’s popularity tanked over the Iraq war.  Despite Cameron’s ‘modernization’ campaign, which notched its first notable triumph with the recognition of same-sex marriage in February, over the howls of some of his more old-fashioned Tory colleagues, he remains deeply unpopular.

Meanwhile, the upstart and nakedly anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party — Cameron famously once called them a bunch of ‘fruitcases, loonies and closet racists’ — has grown to the point that it now outpolls Cameron’s governing coalition partners, the Liberal Democratic Party. UKIP even edged out the Tories in a recent by-election in Eastleigh, and Cameron has relented to calls for the first-ever referendum on the continued UK membership in the European Union (though, targeted as it is for 2017, it assumes that Cameron will actually be in power after the next election).

Nervous Tory backbenchers, already wary of local elections in May and European elections in 2014, are already starting to sound the alarms of a leadership challenge against Cameron, though it’s nothing (yet) like the kind of constant embattlement that plagued former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

Former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher faced an even more dire midterm slump in the early 1980s and still managed to win the 1983 general election handily, but if the current Labour lead settles or even widens, political gravity could well paralyze the government in 2013 and 2014 in the same way as Brown’s last years in government or former Tory prime minister John Major’s.

It’s worth pausing to note what the Cameron-led coalition government has and has not done.

Continue reading Should David Cameron change course over the UK budget?

First Past the Post: March 7


East and South Asia

Who might Congress run for prime minister in 2014 if not Rahul Gandhi?

North America

U.S. senator Rand Paul mounts a 13-hour filibuster against U.S. CIA director appointee John Brennan.

Latin America / Caribbean

Venezuela says farewell to Hugo Chávez (pictured above)

Sub-Saharan Africa

Colorblindness may be to blame for Kenya’s rejected ballots.


French troops set to withdraw from Mali in April.

Europe will shrink in 2013.

Russia and Former Soviet Union

Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev speaks out against Russian laws.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt’s judiciary holds up the planned April parliamentary elections.

Hugo Chávez’s legacy in the Middle East.