Kenya delays election in some areas over risk of violence
By Ed Cropley and George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan authorities said on Friday they would indefinitely delay further attempts to hold a repeat presidential election in some areas due to the risk of violence, as the opposition rejected the re-run as “a sham” and said the polls should be cancelled.
The east African nation had been due to hold elections on Saturday in four western counties, after residents blocked roads and clashed with police on during an attempt to hold the polls there on Thursday. But those plans have been largely put on hold, the election board said.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the contest earlier this month, saying the contest against President Uhuru Kenyatta was not going to be fair.
He urged supporters not to take part in the vote and polling stations were unable to open in his strongholds in the west of the country on Thursday.
In the rest of Kenya, most polling stations were able to open, but turnout was below 35 percent and there were clashes in Nairobi slums and in the coastal city of Mombasa.
Kenyatta has won over 97 percent of votes counted so far, according to a local media tally, but the poor turnout has damaged his second-term mandate.
Pockets of violence continued on Friday, with police saying they shot dead one man, bringing to five the number of confirmed deaths since voting began on Thursday. All were killed in the west of the country, which supports the opposition.
POCKETS OF CLASHES
In the Nairobi slum of Kawangware, a Reuters witness saw nearly 100 youths armed with machetes in red T-shirts – the colour of the ruling party – as a group of opposition supporters clashed with police. A large fire burned nearby.
“It’s only fire, everything is burned down, the fire is spreading more and more – my neighbours’ homes, businesses are all burnt,” said a tearful Rosalind Njeri, 28.
The vote has exposed Kenya’s deep political and ethnic divisions as violence flares and court cases drag on. It is being closely watched as Kenya is a regional trade and logistics hub and powerful security ally for Western nations.
Kisumu election officials, who have had to cower behind locked doors while the popping sounds of tear gas and live gunfire echoed nearby, said they were very relieved not to have to try to open polling stations.
“The (election board) officers in Nairobi were not taking consideration of our lives,” one said. “This is better.”
Musalia Mudavadi, a senior opposition leader, had earlier accused authorities of “ethnic profiling” and having “militarised elections” as they beef up security ahead of the plan to hold voting in Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori and Siaya counties on Saturday.
“We advise the people not to walk into this trap of death,” he told reporters on Friday.
ONE KENYA, TWO FACES
Kenya’s first election, in August, was annulled by the courts because of procedural irregularities, denying Kenyatta a simple victory over his political rival. Turnout in that election was 80 percent.
If the expected legal challenges fail to clear a path out of the crisis, including a possible order for another re-run, the result will be a protracted and economically damaging political stalemate between the Kenyatta and Odinga camps.
“Unless the courts annul the election, Kenyatta will move forward without a clear mandate and Odinga will pursue a protest strategy whose chances of success in the circumstances are not very high,” International Crisis Group analyst Murithi Mutiga said.
The division was neatly captured in local media, with the Standard, a leading tabloid, headlining its front page: “One Kenya, two faces.”
The election commission said more than one in 10 polling stations failed to open due to “security challenges”. Its chairman, Wafula Chebukati, tweeted overnight that 6.55 million ballots had been cast – just 34.5 percent of registered voters.
A tally of results announced at the constituency level compiled by the Nation media group showed Kenyatta had won over 96 percent of the vote with 200 of 292 constituencies announced.
Figures released by the election commission showed turnout in Kenyatta’s Rift Valley and Central region strongholds was similar to levels seen in August.
However, the boycott call was heeded by voters on the coast, which is far from his western homeland and saw little violence but has overwhelmingly supported Odinga in previous polls.
Around 50 people have been killed, mostly by security forces, since the original Aug. 8 vote, raising fears of sustained violence only a decade after 1,200 people were killed in serious ethnic fighting triggered by another disputed vote.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld, Humphrey Malalo and John Ndiso in Nairobi and Maggie Fick in Kisumu; Writing by David Lewis and Ed Cropley; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)