Voting suspended as election crisis worsens
Kenya’s election commission has abandoned an effort to hold presidential election votes in four counties in the western part of the country, as clashes continue between protesters and police in opposition strongholds after Friday’s chaotic repeat presidential election.
The new election was held after the Supreme Court annulled the August 8 presidential election due to irregularities.
On Friday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission postponed voting in four western counties – Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay and Siaya – until today because of violence. But the commission yesterday suspended the vote indefinitely, saying the lives of electoral staff would be in danger.
The decision came after warnings from opposition and church leaders that going ahead would only trigger more violence.
An opposition protester was shot dead by police in Bungoma town in western Kenya yesterday, raising the number killed in electionrelated violence to five. Four of the deaths occurred in western regions where the opposition is dominant. Dozens more have been injured, mainly when police opened fire on protesters, adding to concerns over the excessive use of force by riot police.
An opposition boycott of the repeat election and violence in opposition areas saw a low turnout, estimated at around 34 per cent, compared with 80 per cent in August.
President Uhuru Kenyatta was deprived of a credible political mandate because of the low turnout. With Kenya facing its worst political crisis in nearly a decade, the result raises the spectre of a prolonged stalemate and continued instability, underscoring doubts over Kenyatta’s ability to unify the country and end the crisis.
The election has deepened sharp political divisions, raising fears that ethnic clashes could spread in a nation where elections are a struggle for power and resources, and people often vote along ethnic lines. After disputed elections in 2007, ethnic violence broke out, leaving up to 1500 people dead.
Clashes between rival ethnic groups flared yesterday in Kawangware, a neighbourhood west of the capital, Nairobi, and men were attacked with machetes and clubs as violence escalated.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga had boycotted the new election, saying it would not be credible because of the failure of the electoral commission to deliver necessary reforms.
Last week electoral commission chief Wafula Chebukati said he could not guarantee fair elections because the commission was politically divided and had voted down the reforms he introduced. He accused both sides of interfering.
Despite the questions over the election’s credibility, Kenyatta insisted that the country go ahead with Friday’s vote, brushing aside calls by civic activists and the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict analysis group, to delay the poll to enable dialogue and compromise. According to the electoral commission, 13 per cent of polling stations either did not open their doors or failed to communicate with the commission.
Anglican canon Joshua Owiti said the further attempt to hold elections today ‘‘is not acceptable whatsoever, for it borders on subjecting our region to a further state of chaos and police brutality to a level which is not commensurate to the objective of the entire electoral process’’.
Odinga yesterday rejected Friday’s presidential election as a sham, and warned his supporters to stay off the streets. He called for fresh elections in 90 days.
Ratcheting up the tensions, other opposition figures accused Kenyan authorities of using the planned vote in the four western counties as a means to commit ‘‘genocide’’ against the Luo ethnic group, which makes up a large chunk of the opposition’s support.
One opposition leader, Musalia Mudavadi, said the government had militarised the election, and described it as a ‘‘forced poll’’.
Okiya Omtatah, an activist, filed a lengthy petition with a court yesterday arguing that the repeat poll was never legal because Odinga had withdrawn. His is unlikely to be the last legal petition, in an election that has seen myriad petitions filed by different actors.
After the Supreme Court nullified the August 8 election, Kenyatta reacted angrily, calling the judges ‘‘crooks’’ and vowing to ‘‘fix’’ them.
The election process has also been marred by the torture and murder of Chris Msando, an electoral official, days before the August poll, death threats against electoral commissioners, intimidation of judges, hate speech at political rallies, and police killings of protesters.
The national death toll in August post-election clashes was as high as 67, according to Human Rights Watch.
Kenyan human rights groups yesterday called for investigations of at least 60 cases of rape and sexual abuse during the August violence, mainly carried out by police and security forces.
A man runs away after trying to douse a fire started by rioters in the Kawangware slum near Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, during election-related violence.