By George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga urged supporters to boycott Thursday’s repeat presidential election and persuade their friends to do the same, saying he would lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the government.
Odinga, however, backed away from previous promises to hold large-scale protests on election day.
“We advise Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigil and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home,” he told a cheering crowd of thousands of people on Wednesday in Uhuru Park, in the capital Nairobi.
“Convince your friends, neighbours and everyone else not participate,” he said, but if they support the president, he cautioned “do not insult or assault them. Instead, seek to open their eyes.”
Election officials said the repeat presidential poll would go ahead regardless of Odinga’s decision.
The repeat election was ordered by the Supreme Court after judges nullified the results of an Aug. 8 presidential contest over procedural grounds.
Odinga is refusing to participate because he said that the election commission has failed to implement reforms to prevent another failed poll.
The Supreme Court was due to hear cases seeking to delay the polls but was unable to do so after five out of seven judges had failed to turn up, preventing a quorum.
Minutes after Chief Justice David Maraga said the case could not be heard, hundreds of supporters took to the streets of Kisumu, Odinga’s main stronghold.
Riot police used teargas to disperse them. Two protesters had gunshot wounds, a Reuters witness said.
“If the government subverts the sovereign will of the people … then people are entitled to rebel against this government,” Kisumu governor Anyang Nyong’o, a hardline Odinga supporter, told reporters in Kisumu.
Such comments seem certain to fuel fears of a major confrontation with security forces, already blamed for killing nearly 50 people in Kisumu and Nairobi slums after the cancelled August vote.
For some in East Africa’s economic powerhouse, the instability has rekindled memories of large-scale ethnic violence that killed 1,200 people following a disputed election in 2007.
(Additional reporting by Maggie Fick, David Lewis and John Ndiso in Nairobi and Baz Ratner in Kisumu; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Richard Balmforth, Robin Pomeroy and Alister Doyle)