Vot­ing sus­pended as elec­tion cri­sis wors­ens

Sunday Star-Times - - World - LA Times

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.

REUTERS

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.

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