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Kenya opposition warns violence if ‘forced’ election held (Update)

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta poses for selfie pictures with supporters after casting his vote during the presidential election re-run in Gatundu

Kenya’s opposition rejected the nation’s election re-run as “a sham” and said on Friday that plans to reorganise voting in its western strongholds where polls did not open risked provoking further violence and should be cancelled.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has won over 96 per cent of votes counted so far, according to a local media tally of numbers released, but his second term mandate is weak with turnout below 35 per cent and a vote undermined by clashes.

Pockets of violence continued on Friday, with police saying they shot dead one man, bringing to five the number of confirmed dead since voting began on Thursday. All were killed in the west of the country, which supports the opposition.

The vote has exposed Kenya’s deep political and ethnic divisions as violence flared and court cases drag on. It is being closely watched as Kenya is a regional trade and logistics hub and powerful security ally for Western nations.

Musalia Mudavadi, a senior opposition leader, accused authorities of “ethnic profiling” and having “militarised elections” as they beef up security ahead of a plan to hold voting in Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori and Siaya on Saturday.

“In the event that (the election commission) refuses to listen to wisdom and instead goes on with this meaningless forced poll, we advise the people not to walk into this trap of death,” he told reporters on Friday.

“We call on the residents of these counties to stay away from these planned polls,” he added.

ONE KENYA, TWO FACES

Kenya’s first election, in August, was annulled by the courts because of procedural irregularities, denying Kenyatta a simple victory over his political rival. Turnout in that election was 80 per cent.

If the expected legal challenges fail to clear a path out of the crisis, including a possible order for another re-run, the result will be a protracted and economically damaging political stalemate between the Kenyatta and Odinga camps.

“Unless the courts annul the election, Kenyatta will move forward without a clear mandate and Odinga will pursue a protest strategy whose chances of success in the circumstances are not very high,” International Crisis Group analyst Murithi Mutiga said.

The division was neatly captured in local media, with the Standard, a leading tabloid, headlining its front page: “One Kenya, two faces”.

The election commission said more than one in 10 polling stations failed to open due to “security challenges”. Its chairman, Wafula Chebukati, tweeted overnight that 6.55 million ballots had been cast – just 34.5 per cent of registered voters.

A tally of results announced at the constituency level compiled by the Nation media group showed Kenyatta had won over 96 percent of the vote with 200 of 292 constituencies announced.

Figures released by the election commission showed turnout in Kenyatta’s Rift Valley and Central region strongholds was similar to levels seen in August.

However, the boycott call was heeded by voters on the coast, which is far from his western homeland and saw little violence but has overwhelmingly supported Odinga in previous polls.

LEGAL CHALLENGES?

Around 50 people have been killed, mostly by security forces, since the original Aug. 8 vote, raising fears of sustained violence only a decade after 1,200 people were killed in serious ethnic fighting triggered by another disputed vote.

On Friday morning, shops started to reopen and traffic returned to Kisumu and the restive Nairobi slums of Kibera and Mathare, although rocks and the remnants of burnt barricades sill littered the roads.

Opposition lawyers may cite the failure to open polling stations in parts of the country as a reason to declare the poll unconstitutional and seek a fresh contest.

Other grounds could include a High Court ruling the day before the election that said hundreds of election officers had been improperly recruited.

“The election obviously did not conform to constitutional requirements,” said James Orengo, co-chair of the opposition legal team. But he said no decision on whether to file a case had been reached yet. The team has seven days after polls close to file a case.

On Friday, civil society activist Okiya Omtata filed a Supreme Court case challenging the legality of the elections.

Also on Friday, amendments to an election law became legal that curtail reasons the Supreme Court can cite to nullify an election. Kenyatta had not signed the amendments, but they were pending long enough to become law, his spokesman said.

Opposition supporters hailed the Supreme Court when it overturned Kenyatta’s August win in an unexpected rebuke to election authorities. The court ruling was the first of its kind in Africa.

But for many, concerns over the independence of the judiciary returned after five out of seven judges failed to show up for a hearing on Wednesday seeking to delay the election.

Chief Justice David Maraga said one was sick, one was stranded and another too upset to show up after her bodyguard was shot the night before, an unsolved attack many Kenyans interpreted as a threat. He did not account for the other two.

“I think it was deliberately choreographed,” said motorcycle taxi driver Steve Aluoch in Kisumu. “I would not be surprised if a similar charade plays out if a petition is filed.”


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