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Dida loses bid to halt presidential debates

Presidential candidate Mohammed Abduba Dida suffered a setback Friday after the High Court gave the Media Debate Ltd the green light to host a presidential debate ahead of August 8 election.

Dida wanted the debates, scheduled for July 10 and 23, temporarily stopped because they will feature two categories of candidates—those with over five per cent popularity as per opinion polls and those without. The firm intends to host a debate for presidential running mates on July 17.

Dida had challenged the guidelines issued by the firm for the proposed presidential debate and protested that the criteria applied eliminated him and other presidential candidates.

He had claimed the format was discriminatory and violated his fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms. The politician, who is vying on Alliance for Real Change ticket, admitted he had been invited by the firm on June 23 to participate in the proposed forum.

The qualifications were that candidates must have been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and attained at least five per cent of popular support countrywide in at least two national opinion polls conducted by reputable research firms.

Justice John Mativo observed that Dida had questioned the rationale for being excluded from the face-off between Jubilee candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger, National Super Alliance (Nasa) flag-bearer, Raila Odinga.

Jubilee and Nasa have since said their candidates will not attend the debate. The judge said the Media Debate Ltd had maintained that the disputed guidelines were premised on credible opinion polls that had informed the threshold the participants were required to comply with.

He dismissed Dida’s assertion that he was unaware of the poll results and had not seen them. “The results of the opinion polls are in the public domain, having been publicised in the media on June 9 and 10. Dida should have demanded the relevant information from the hosts regarding the poll results,” said Justice Mativo.

“It is not every differentiation that amounts to discrimination. Consequently, it is always necessary to identify the criteria that separates legitimate differentiation from constitutionally impermissible differentiation. Put differently, differentiation is permissible if it does not amount to unfair discrimination,” he added.

“I find the petition has no merits and that the reliefs sought are unwarranted. Am not satisfied that the petitioner (Dida) has proved his case to the required standards.”

The chairman of the organising committee hosting the debate, Wachira Waruru, said the guidelines were given wide publicity and Dida had failed to disclose how his fundamental rights and freedoms had been violated.

The steering committee had conducted thorough research to ensure that international standards were adhered to. The team had travelled to the US during the 2016 presidential election and interacted with officials who were responsible for the American Debate.

The only major obstacle was fielding multiple candidates on the podium, which necessitated the guidelines, he had explained.

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