NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 30 – Kenya’s election commission is expected Monday to decide whether to reschedule a vote in flashpoint opposition areas, where a boycott sparked violent protests, or to push ahead with declaring victory for President Uhuru Kenyatta.
With the counting almost done after Thursday’s presidential re-run, the results remained on hold as officials mulled what to do about the 25 constituencies in four western counties where voting was blocked.
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who called for an election boycott, managed to prevent hundreds of polling stations from opening, prompting violent clashes with police which continued for several days, leaving nine dead and scores injured.
At least 49 people have died since the first presidential election of August 8, which was later overturned, prompting Kenya’s worst political crisis in a decade.
The months-long electoral dispute and increasingly divisive political rhetoric has polarised the nation and sparked international concern about the future of East Africa’s most stable democracy.
Following Odinga’s boycott, Kenyatta is guaranteed a crushing win.
Turnout figures given by election chief Wafula Chebukati late Sunday suggested the opposition boycott had held with a turnout of 7.4 million people, equivalent to just 43 percent of voters in 251 of the 266 constituencies where the election took place.
Chebukati said he was “satisfied” with the counting process but made no comment on what would happen in the protest-hit western areas.
Plans to restage the vote in the western regions on Saturday were quickly called off after a second day of protests, over fears for the safety of polling staff.
On Sunday, Odinga, who says Thursday’s poll would have been neither free nor fair, continued to demand a new election within 90 days, vowing to stage a campaign of “civil disobedience”.
But William Ruto, Kenyatta’s deputy, was intransigent.
“There will be no election in 90 days, there will be no discussion on matters to do with elections,” he told Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Thursday’s presidential re-run was ordered by Kenya’s Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes.
That ruling stipulated that the vote must be completed by October 31.
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta whose fathers were rivals before them has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
The current political crisis is the worst since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.