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Sporadic clashes as Kenya votes in disputed re-election

The Supreme Court in Kenya had overturned the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August 8 elections.

world Updated: Oct 26, 2017 15:24 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Nairobi
Kenya,Kenya Election,Kenya Re-Election
Kenyan police officers, who were caught between bands of stone-throwing residents of Katwekera village within Kibera slum - a stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga - charge out in Nairobi on October 26, 2017, as voting in Kenya's repeat presidential poll kicked off on a low turn-out at polling stations in the slum.(AFP)

Kenyans trickled into polling stations Thursday for a repeat election that has polarised the nation, amid sporadic clashes as supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga ignored his call to stay away and tried to block voting.

In stark contrast to the first ballot in August, which was annulled by the Supreme Court, several polling stations in key areas stood empty or welcomed only a handful of voters in an election likely to face more legal battles after its conclusion.

In opposition strongholds in the slums of Nairobi and the west of the country, protesters barricaded roads and polling stations, lobbing rocks at police who fired teargas to disperse them.

On a grey and drizzly morning, only 50 people stood on the boggy grass outside the Redeemed Gospel Church polling station in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, where more than 8,000 people are registered to vote.

“It is my duty to vote. Last time the queue was all around the block and I waited six hours to vote, this time the people are few,” said taxi driver David Njeru, 26, as he waited to cast his ballot.

The election is the chaotic climax of a political drama that began when the Supreme Court overturned the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August 8 elections.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta casts his vote during a presidential election re-run in Gatundu, Kenya October 26, 2017. (REUTERS)

It cited “irregularities” and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Kenyatta, who turns 56 on Thursday, is almost assured victory after veteran opposition leader Odinga withdrew, citing fears the poll would be marred by the same flaws which saw the August vote overturned.

The boycott in east Africa’s richest economy and one of its strongest democracies is likely to tarnish the credibility of Kenyatta’s victory and deepen its worst political crisis since a 2007 election sparked politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 dead.

In the first election, turnout was nearly 80% among the 19 million registered voters. Kenyatta secured victory with 54%of the vote, while Odinga came second with 45%.

‘I don’t want a bullet’

In Odinga’s main strongholds but also in other places, polling officials were left twiddling their thumbs, from Kisumu in the west to Mombasa on the coast and Mandera in the far northeast.

In areas loyal to Kenyatta, turnout was steady but still appeared to be far lower than during the first round.

A woman and a man react after teargas was fired by Kenyan policemen in Mathare, northeastern Nairobi on October 26, 2017, as a group of demonstrators attempted to prevent voters from accessing a polling station in presidential elections. (AFP)

In Kisumu, ballot boxes and electronic kits to identify voters and transmit results had not arrived in polling stations, with some officials facing attacks from opposition supporters while trying to deliver voting material.

Only seven of 399 polling officials showed up at the Kisumu-Centre constituency counting office, with one saying he had spent the night there out of fear.

“The perception here is that if you take that job, you are betraying your community”, he said on condition of anonymity.

“I stayed here because I don’t want to get a bullet while on my way home.”

Despite the boycott, one Odinga supporter Joshua Nyamori, 42, said he had hoped to vote at the Kenyatta Sports Ground but found no polling material or officials.

“Even if 500,000 do not want to vote, polling stations should be open, even for the 10 people who want to,” he said.

‘A political mistake’

“I am concerned because not all people are staying home by choice, some people are afraid of being attacked,” Nyamori said.

In his view, the decision of the opposition coalition National Super Alliance (NASA) not to take part in the vote was a “political mistake”.

Isolated incidents in Kisumu, nearby Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori saw protesters block roads and polling stations, clashing with police who tried to disperse them.

With eight candidates in the running, the vote was meant to be a final showdown between Kenyatta and Odinga, whose families have been locked in political rivalry for more than half a century.

However, Odinga urged his supporters to “stay at home” and avoid security forces.

Residents queue to cast their votes at a polling station in Moi Primary School in the central business district of Nairobi on October 26, 2017, as voting in Kenya's repeat presidential poll kicked off on a low turn-out at some polling stations. (AFP)

Since August, at least 40 people died in a wave of protests, mostly at the hands of police in poor opposition strongholds, according to rights groups.

The 72-year-old Odinga, who has lost three previous elections claiming fraud in two of them, said his coalition would transform into “a resistance movement”.

NASA will “embark on a national campaign of defiance of illegitimate governmental authority and non-cooperation with all its organs,” he declared.

Diplomats ‘disappointed’

Kenyatta, who cast his vote in the late morning, said: “Ninety percent of the country is calm, it is peaceful and it is voting.”

The decision to cancel the August poll was initially hailed as an opportunity to deepen democracy in a country plagued by disputed elections.

But the re-run has been dogged by chaos and acrimony, prompting top diplomats to blast Odinga and Kenyatta for fuelling division.

Kenyan security forces and residents clear debris from a street in Mathare, Nairobi on October 26, 2017, as a group of demonstrators attempted to prevent voters to access a polling station for presidential elections. (AFP)

A statement signed by 15 foreign envoys representing the United States, the United Kingdom and several European countries, expressed disappointment that Kenya had not “come together to hold a better election”.

“We are deeply disappointed by the continuing efforts of both parties to interfere with and undermine the independent operation of the electoral commission, the judiciary, and other essential institutions,” the statement said.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 15:24 IST