Kenya’s main opposition coalition said on Wednesday it would suspend its weekly protests against the election commission to give calls for dialogue a chance.
Three people were killed on Monday in clashes between demonstrators and police in Nairobi and other cities during rallies against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) led by opposition leader Raila Odinga’s CORD coalition. Clashes also flared during three other protests.
The next presidential and parliamentary polls in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, are not due until August 2017 but politicians are already trying to galvanise supporters in a country prone to political strife. Violence erupted after the 2007 vote and the opposition disputed the outcome in 2013.
The opposition accuses the IEBC of bias and wants its commissioners to be replaced. IEBC members dismiss the charges, while the government has accused the opposition of criticising the IEBC because they cannot win via the ballot box.
On Tuesday, U.S., British and other Western ambassadors called for talks to resolve the issue.
“CORD has resolved to temporarily suspend demonstrations that were scheduled for next Monday 30th May, 2016 to give dialogue and peace a chance,” an opposition statement said.
The suspension of the protests, which have been staged each Monday since April 25 bar one, would expire on June 5 if the ruling Jubilee coalition does not agree to talks, CORD said.
The government says any changes must be pursued within the provisions of the constitution, which could include a petition to parliament. However, parliament is dominated by allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and a previous bid was thrown out.
“The combustible mixture of opposition protests and police brutality poses a risk of rising tensions ahead of, and potentially after, the 2017 ballot,” said Philip Walker, regional Africa editor for the Economist Intelligence Unit.