Palpable Tension In Kenya As Uhuru Leads In Disputed Polls

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Kenya was stuck in a dangerous limbo Saturday as President Uhuru Kenyatta took an unassailable lead in a disputed poll that has sparked violent protests in which nine have died.

Kenyatta was leading with 97 percent of votes compared to less than one percent for his rival Raila Odinga, who boycotted the repeat election, according to a tally by the Daily Nation media group of unofficial results from 80 percent of constituencies.

However turnout appears headed for a record low of around 35 percent, tarnishing the credibility of an election that has deeply polarised east Africa’s economic powerhouse.

Violent protests have rocked Odinga’s strongholds in the west of the country and flashpoint Nairobi slums, with the death of man in Homa Bay late Friday taking the toll since election day to nine dead. Scores have also been wounded, many by police bullets.

Local police chief Mauris Tum said a gang of youths had stormed the home of a local ruling party lawmaker and police responded, leaving one “fatally wounded”.

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One man was also shot dead by police in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum on Friday night as clashes broke out between ethnic groups over the election, police said.

A witness told AFP the violence started when a group of youths “started attacking people and questioning why people never voted”.
– ‘Tragic consequences’ –

Elsewhere opposition supporters torched shops belonging to members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and a group of young men wielding machetes could also be seen roaming the streets.

At least 49 people have now died since a first election on August 8 in Kenya’s worst crisis since a 2007 vote sparked politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 dead.

“From past experience, sporadic incidents of violence quickly burst into a conflagration with tragic consequences. We are likely to go this direction unless quick action is taken,” wrote the Daily Nation in an editorial.

The presidential re-run was ordered by the Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August 8 victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes.

But two weeks before the new elections, Odinga pulled out, calling for a boycott on the grounds that the electoral commission hadn’t made the necessary changes to ensure a free and fair vote in a call that was widely observed.

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Observers expect further legal challenges over the re-run.
– ‘We don’t want elections’ –

In some areas, mostly in the western Nyanza region where the majority of deaths have occurred, the election couldn’t take place at all as opposition supporters blocked hundreds of polling stations from opening on Thursday.

Plans to restage elections in the region on Saturday were again delayed after election chief Wafula Chebukati said he feared for the safety of his staff.

Chebukati saying a future date would be announced “in the coming days”.

According to the Supreme Court, the election re-run must be completed by October 31.

In Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city where three people had died on election day, opposition supporters were still on alert to block plans to deploy election material, although shops opened and transport was circulating.

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At a main roundabout in the city, someone had hung up a dead cat. In recent days, ahead of each announcement, Odinga promises to announce his next moves on how to “slay the cat”.

Richard Ogilo, 24, pointed to the carcass and said: “Look there is a member of IEBC (election board) at this roundabout. This is Wafula Chebukati. Let him know that we do not want elections.”

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.

“Leaders must now begin preaching the message of reconciliation and co-existence. Elections have deeply divided the people and we need to repair the fractures,” said the Daily Nation editorial.

Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.

AFP

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