NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya’s second presidential election since August remained in limbo on Saturday as the election commission said it was working on a “way forward” in opposition areas where voting has been postponed because of unrest. While most of the country was calm, police used tear gas to disperse crowds in a Nairobi slum where anger toward the government runs deep.
It was unclear when tensions over the election, a rerun of the nullified August vote, would subside. Opposition leader Raila Odinga boycotted the vote on Thursday, citing a lack of election reforms. Tallies from many polling stations, published on the election commission’s website, showed President Uhuru Kenyatta with vast leads over Odinga and six other candidates.
However, any decision to declare Kenyatta the winner would likely intensify grievances among opposition supporters in the East African country with a reputation for stability and economic growth. Kenya is again struggling with divisions fueled by ethnic-based politics. The voting delays in four counties where opposition supporters have fought with police have complicated hopes for the country’s troubled democracy.
The election commission will provide an update Sunday “on the way forward” in two dozen constituencies where voting did not occur, commission chief Wafula Chebukati said.
“We have the materials ready but we can’t do this alone. It’s a security issue,” Chebukati said. “We cannot put the lives of our staff at risk.”
The election commission also revised its turnout from Thursday’s election to 48 percent of 19.6 million registered voters, saying an earlier estimate of about one-third was not based on complete data. The opposition boycott sharply reduced turnout in comparison to the Aug. 8 vote, when nearly 80 percent of registered voters participated.
The Supreme Court nullified the August vote because of irregularities – the first time a court in Africa had overturned a presidential election. Odinga, whose legal challenge led to the ruling, withdrew from the new election, saying the process was not credible because of the lack of electoral reforms.
The streets of Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city and an opposition stronghold, as well as several Nairobi slums were largely quiet on Saturday, though police clashed with crowds in the capital’s Kawangware slum.
Young men in Kawangware, some of them carrying machetes, taunted the police and ran for cover. “No Raila, no peace,” some chanted.
“I don’t see this ending soon,” said one supporter, Paul Maumo. He accused the election commission of staging a fraudulent vote.
At least six people have died in violence linked to the latest vote.
Kenyatta, who got 54 percent of the vote in August, is from the Kikuyu community and has talked about the need to dispel ethnic loyalties in politics. Odinga, who got nearly 45 percent in the earlier election, is a Luo.
Some Kenyans have raised concerns about the way Thursday’s election was conducted. The electoral commission announced that 35,564 polling stations opened on voting day, but the commission chairman later tweeted they had received results forms from 36,796 polling stations.
Commission spokesman Andrew Limo said some electronic transmission kits fail to send a signal to show the polling station has opened but still transmit results. The commission has stopped updating results that were transmitted electronically and will announce only the final ones, he said.
International election observers had a much lower profile in Thursday’s election, reflecting their concern about opposition hostility toward their generally positive reviews of voting day in August. Observers had urged anyone with grievances to address them through legal channels.
Acting on behalf of the African Union, former South African President Thabo Mbeki was the only high-profile election observer during Thursday’s vote. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Kenya in August as an observer for The Carter Center, did not return this time.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter