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Kenya’s Main Candidates Pull Out of Televised Election Debate

Both Kenya’s leading presidential contenders have pulled out of two planned televised debates ahead of the August 8 election, their parties said Wednesday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta withdrew first, followed by his main rival Raila Odinga.

The first of the debates organised by a consortium of Kenyan media was scheduled for Monday and the second on July 24.

“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.

Later, an advisor to the opposition candidate said in a statement that, “Odinga will not participate in the 2017 presidential debate under the current proposed format and stipulation,” without providing further details.

Kenyatta and Odinga are the only two candidates with more than five percent in recent opinion polls and were meant to go head to head in the 90 minute televised debates. The other six candidates — none of whom the polls consider to be serious contenders — are due to participate in an earlier debate.

Kenya held its first ever televised presidential debate in 2013, including both Kenyatta and Odinga. 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.

The vote comes a decade after the worst electoral clashes in Kenyan history when over 1,100 people were killed in politically motivated ethnic violence.

The presidential race is predicted to be close with Odinga heading an unprecedented opposition alliance in the hope of winning in his fourth run for the top job.

The election could swing either way, with five million new voters among the 19 million registered compared to the 2013 presidential polls.

On Monday, the European Union warned against possible violence in the upcoming elections, while advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it had documented cases of intimidation and threats.

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