Kenya’s election commission on Friday abandoned an effort to hold presidential election votes in four counties in the western part of the country, as clashes continued between protesters and police in opposition strongholds after Thursday’s chaotic repeat presidential election.
The new election was held after the Supreme Court annulled the Aug. 8 presidential election because of irregularities.
On Thursday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission postponed voting in four western Kenya counties — Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay and Siaya — until Saturday because of violence. But the commission Friday 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.
On Friday, an opposition protester was shot dead by police in Bungoma town in western Kenya, raising the number killed in election-related 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 concern over excessive use of force by riot police.
An opposition boycott of the repeat election and violence in opposition areas saw low turnout, estimated at around 34%, compared with 80% in August.
President Uhuru Kenyatta was deprived of a credible political mandate because of the low turnout Thursday. With Kenya facing its worst political crisis in nearly a decade, the result raises the specter 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 1,500 people dead.
Clashes between rival ethnic groups flared in Kawangware, a neighborhood west of central Nairobi, and men were attacked with machetes and clubs as violence escalated.
“Arm yourselves!” one Twitter user posted.
“Kawangware under attack. Not another ethnic cleansing,” tweeted another. “Stop this madness,” said another user.
Opposition leader and candidate Raila Odinga had boycotted the new election, saying that it would not be credible because of the failure of the electoral commission to deliver necessary reforms. Last week, commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati said he could not guarantee a fair election because his panel 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 the country go ahead with Thursday’s vote, brushing aside calls by activists and the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict analysis group, to delay the vote to allow dialogue and compromise. As it became increasingly clear that the opposition boycott had been heeded, he appealed to voters to turn out “in large numbers.”
According to the electoral commission, 13% of polling stations either did not open their doors or failed to communicate with the commission.
“An election was held yesterday and the country was divided,” said Anglican canon Joshua Owiti at a news conference Friday. “One side of the country went to the polls and they voiced their interest to the polls. Another part of the country chose to stand against the voting. What we say is that all these views or all these decisions that were made by the people of Kenya, they must be respected.”
Owiti said a further attempt to hold elections Saturday “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 on Friday rejected Thursday’s presidential election as a sham and warned his supporters to stay off the streets. He called for a fresh election in 90 days.
Ratcheting up the tensions, other opposition figures accused Kenyan authorities of using the planned Saturday election in the four counties as a means to commit “genocide” against the Luo ethnic group that makes up a large chunk of opposition support.
One opposition leader, Musalia Mudavadi, said the government had militarized the election, which he described as a “forced poll.”
“Kenyans everywhere have overwhelmingly made a loud statement against Jubilee’s electoral farce,” he said, referring to Kenyatta’s ruling coalition. “We are profoundly concerned at state profiling of a part of our country with sinister violent motives that could lead to a massacre of innocent people.
“Beefing up security here is a euphemism for state preparation to unleash even more lethal force and state violence into these counties in recent times.”
After Odinga’s withdrawal, Kenyatta as expected won the most votes cast. A tally by the Daily Nation newspaper based on electoral commission results indicated the incumbent received more than 96% of the vote, with 227 of 292 constituencies counted.
Okiya Omtatah, an activist, took court action to nullify Thursday’s election. He filed a lengthy petition Friday arguing that the repeat poll was never legal because Odinga had withdrawn. He also relied on the comments of electoral commissioner Roselyn Akombe last week that the commission could not deliver a free and fair election.
His is not likely 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 election, Kenyatta reacted angrily, calling the judges “crooks” and vowing to “fix” them.
The election process has been marked by the torture and homicide 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 postelection clashes was as high as 67, according to Human Rights Watch. Kenyan human rights groups Friday called for investigations of at least 60 cases of rape and sexual abuse in the August violence, mainly said to be carried out by police and security forces.