Tensions ahead of Kenyan elections

Tensions are rising in Kenya in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on 4 March. The election campaign took a sinister turn on 20 February after the country's chief justice Willy Mutunga revealed he had received a letter threatening him with "dire consequences" if the courts barred presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta from contesting the election. Mutunga claimed the letter was from the “Mungiki Veterans Group/Kenya Sovereignty Defence Squad”, an outlawed group responsible for violence after the last elections in 2007.

Kenyatta, Kenya's deputy prime minister and former finance minister, faces charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to orchestrating post-election violence from late 2007 to early 2008 in which over 1,100 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Kenyatta denies the allegations of orchestration of murder, rape, forcible transfer and persecution.

Although there are eight presidential candidates, the contest is seen as a two-horse-race between the country’s prime minister Raila Odinga and Kenyatta. Both candidates are currently running neck and neck in their quest to succeed Mwai Kibaki, who has served two terms as president and is not permitted to stand a third time.

The “Cord” alliance behind Odinga’s campaign takes its name from the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy which comprises three main parties: the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Odinga; the Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM) led by Kalonzo Musyoka; and Ford Kenya led by Moses Wetangula. Odinga lost the 2007 presidential race to incumbent Kibaki.

Kenyatta and his running mate in the “Jubilee” alliance, former higher education minister William Ruto, are due to be tried at The Hague about a month after the election. Although they have formed an election pact, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides of the post-election violence in 2007. If their joint election campaign proves successful, Kenyatta would become president and Ruto would serve as deputy president. Cabinet and parliamentary positions would be divided evenly between both sides.

Due to the terms of Kenya’s new constitution, voted in by a referendum in 2010, the 2013 elections could be the first in which candidates face a second round run-off between the first and the second candidate if neither achieves a majority the first time around, or if the winner does not get 25 per cent of the votes in at least 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If there is no clear winner, a second round of voting will take place on 11 April.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which is overseeing the elections for the first time, will announce the official election results for the first round by 11 March. Kenya’s new president will be inaugurated on 26 March. In the event of a second round, the new president will be sworn in on 30 April.