Kenyatta and Odinga pull out of televised election debates

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.

President Kenyatta and his main rival Raila Odinga have pulled out of two televised presidential debates ahead of August 8 elections, their parties announced on Wednesday.

Initially the two frontrunners were to go head to head while six smaller candidates would hold a separate debate on Monday, followed by a second debate on July 24.

However after finding out about a change to the format which would have seen all eight candidates debating each other, officials in both parties said Kenyatta and Odinga had decided to withdraw.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta will not participate in the presidential debates,” David Murathe, vice chairman of the ruling Jubilee Party said Wednesday, citing insufficient consultation and format issues.

A party official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Jubilee had a problem with the president debating alongside “small” candidates.

“We cannot subject the president to such kind of debate, but if it is him and Raila it is fine but for now it is a no from us,” the official said.

Odinga’s team also said he would not take part due to the new format with his top advisor Salim Lone saying: “How do you really get into the meat of things in just two minutes each? It would be impossible to have a substantive debate.”

Both Presidential candidates took part in Kenya’s first ever televised presidential debate in 2013, although afterwards, Kenyatta complained that he had been unfairly targeted by moderators.

Kenyans go to the polls next month in national elections choosing from 14,500 candidates contesting in a series of races for president, governor, parliament and county assembly seats.

This presidential race is predicted to be close with Odinga hoping to win at his fourth attempt after forming an unprecedented opposition alliance.

With five million new voters compared to the 2013 presidential race, the election could swing either way.