, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 24 – The second tier of the presidential debate kicked off half an hour late Monday night after President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to show up, with his opponent Raila Odinga appearing solo.
Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement presidential candidate under the National Super Alliance (NASA), took to the podium at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, refuting claims that his campaign was receiving assistance from neighboring Tanzania.
“We’ve made it clear that we’re going to be tallying so that we can compare our results with those of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Why should somebody be worried about a tallying centre even if it is in Germany, the US or the moon? We’re just adding up results,” he stated in defense to claims that he, with the help of the Tanzanian Government, had set up a tallying centre in Kigamboni, a district within Tanzania’s administrative capital of Dar es Salaam.
Odinga’s response at the debate came at a time when Tanzania’s top diplomat, Augustine Mahinga, who was in the country over the weekend, was quoted by the Citizen newspaper in Tanzania dismissing claims that President John Magufuli was aiding the Opposition chieftain.
“Rival camps are therefore using every technique to outperform one another, but the Government of Tanzania is not siding with any of the two major camps,” Mahinga argued.
Tanzania’s Director of Communications, Hassan Abbas, also distanced himself from the claims saying, “the attempt to link the peace-loving government of Tanzania with involvement in neighbours’ elections is a mistake beyond reality.”
Odinga also defended his criticism of the government saying it was issue-based and not just mere political rhetoric.
“I am not doing negative criticism, I am doing constructive criticism with a view of making the institutions change,” he observed.
The former Prime Minister reiterated his stance on the withdrawal of Kenya Defence Forces from Somalia saying the military should be redeployed to the country’s border to guard against incursions by Al Shabaab terrorists.
He said Kenyan forces were wrongly included into the African Mission Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a move that ruined the county’s initial plan to strategically withdraw to the border.
According to the NASA leader, the protests against IEBC mounted by the Opposition last year were justified since it was of critical importance the leadership of the Commission was restructured to guarantee fairness.
He blamed the agency for sabotaging its bid for a national referendum, which according to him was knocked out on technicalities at the time.
“There’s nothing wrong with the new Commission but they’ve retained the same secretariat that interfered with our quest for a referendum,” Odinga said while alleging that the National Intelligence Service was meddling with internal affairs of the IEBC.
In his closing remarks, the Oposition chief said he would accept the outcome of a free, fair and credible election saying he regretted that President Kenyatta missed out on the debate.
He pledged a peaceful election quoting a Swahili adage which states, “he who refuses to acknowledge defeat is not a worthy competitor.”
Earlier, only three candidates – Thirdway Alliance’s candidate Ekuru Aukot, independent candidates Japheth Kaluyu and Michael Wainaina – showed up for the first round of the debates which was to include six candidates.
State House was yet to explain why President Kenyatta failed to attend the debate by press time Monday.