Sunday 15 September 2019

Police shoot three dead as crisis grips Kenya's elections

An opposition supporter in the Mathare district of Nairobi yesterday. Photo: Getty
An opposition supporter in the Mathare district of Nairobi yesterday. Photo: Getty

Dean Gray in Nairobi

Police in Kenya shot dead at least three people yesterday as a country divided as rarely before floundered through a presidential election that threatens to entrench a bitter political crisis engulfing the former British colony.

Heeding a call from their candidate Raila Odinga to boycott the poll, opposition supporters paralysed his strongholds in western Kenya, mounting burning barricades across streets in the city of Kisumu and sealing the gates of polling stations.

As police battled protesters in pockets of the west and the capital, Nairobi, the electoral commission called off the vote in four of Kenya's 47 counties, deepening the profound sense of uncertainty gripping one of Africa's most stable states.

Voters in the affected counties will be asked to cast their ballots for a third time in under three months tomorrow, a move that risks further antagonising opposition sentiment in the volatile west.

Having succeeded in forcing through an election that the opposition had wanted delayed by 90 days, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, is poised to secure a second five-year term by an overwhelming margin after his only credible opponent withdrew from the contest.

But critics have warned the president that any victory will be pyrrhic, leaving him dogged by questions of legitimacy and at the helm of a ethnically riven country where many may refuse to recognise him as their leader.

Turnout in yesterday's election, a rerun of August's vote which saw Mr Kenyatta's victory overturned by the Supreme Court, will be critical for the president's attempts to reassert his authority.

But with foreign observers choosing not to monitor polling stations out of fears for their security, opposition claims of ballot-stuffing seem almost inevitable - particularly after the chairman of the electoral commission last week said he was no longer sure he could deliver a "free, fair and credible" vote.

The president also faces mounting international pressure after Western observers suggested that "political interference" was responsible for the collapse of a petition earlier this week to defer the vote after only two of the Supreme Court's judges were available to hear it.

"The inability to hear [the] case raises serious questions about due process…which undermines the credibility of the vote," the EU's observer mission said in a statement.

Mr Odinga, who withdrew from the rerun after insisting that his demands for reforms to ensure a fairer vote had not been met, has pledged to turn his opposition alliance into a "national resistance movement" and launch a campaign of civil disobedience.

While doubts remain as to whether he can galvanise sufficient support on the street to overturn the new election, there is little question that support for Mr Odinga remains a strong and disruptive force in his strongholds.

At least one person was killed in Nairobi's Mathare slum, where a church was firebombed, while two more were shot dead in western Kenya.

Violence even erupted between members of parliament, with rivals trading blows and tumbling into a hedge after the ruling party and the opposition attempted to hold press conferences at the same hotel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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