Kenya's Odinga urges voters to stay home for disputed poll

 25 Oct 2017 - 18:13

Kenya's Odinga urges voters to stay home for disputed poll
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition attends a rally in Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Kenya, October 25, 2017. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

AFP

Nairobi:  Kenyan opposition chief leader Raila Odinga urged his supporters to stay at home on Thursday as the country forges ahead with a disputed presidential poll that could threaten the stability of the east African powerhouse.

In a move likely to ease fears of election-day violence, Odinga on Wednesday called on followers to "hold vigils and prayers away from polling stations or just stay at home" for the poll.

Supporters should stay away, for the "bloodthirsty regime is planning to use every excuse to massacre our people," he charged.

The election is the chaotic climax of a two-months political drama that began when the Supreme Court overturned the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August 8 elections.

It cited "irregularities" and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The repeat election is going ahead after clearing myriad legal and political hurdles, but anxiety remains high over the unpredictable consequences of a vote that will take place without Odinga.

Opposition protests have resulted in at least 40 people being killed, mostly at the hands of police and in poor opposition strongholds, according to rights groups.

In Odinga's western stronghold of Kisumu, one protester was shot in the hip on Wednesday, according to an AFP photographer, as demonstrators engaged in running battles with police.

Election chief Wafula Chebukati -- who said last week he could not guarantee a credible election -- appeared to soften his stance on Wednesday after "assurances" from security officials and authorities and "progress" within his divided commission.

"The election as scheduled will go ahead tomorrow, the 26th of October," he said.

The final legal hurdle came in the form of a last-minute Supreme Court petition to delay the election.

But the hearing was unable to go ahead after only two of seven judges showed up in court. At least five judges are needed to form a quorum.

Chief Justice David Maraga said one judge was ill and out of the country, one could not get a flight to Nairobi and two were "not able to come to court," he said.

And his deputy, Philomena Mwilu, did not attend because her bodyguard was shot and seriously wounded on Tuesday evening.

She was not in her car at the time but the incident fuelled anxiety in a country still reeling from the torture and murder of a top official overseeing Kenya's electronic voting system just a week before the August poll.

The vote has also been plagued by opposition attacks on polling officials and a general atmosphere of intimidation.

Chebukati said last week one of his staff members' house had been burned down, saying when "midwifing democracy... becomes as risky as going to war, then we are at our lowest".

Outspoken opposition senator James Orengo said the failure to raise a quorum was "not by coincidence or by accident."

'Campaign of defiance'

The ballot was meant to pit Kenyatta, who turns 56 on Thursday, against 72-year-old Odinga for the third time, in a dynastic political rivalry that began with their fathers after the country gained independence from Britain.

But while Odinga secured a rare victory in having the August ballot overturned, he has refused to take part in the re-run.

The withdrawal assures a triumph for Kenyatta, although analysts say the flawed image of the election will tarnish his victory.

Odinga accuses the IEBC of failing to make sufficient reforms to ensure the vote would be free, fair and credible.

The veteran opposition leader, who has lost three previous elections claiming fraud in two of them, said his National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition would transform into "a resistance movement."

NASA will "embark on a national campaign of defiance of illegitimate governmental authority and non-cooperation with all its organs," he declared.

Odinga also reiterated his hope of forcing another "fresh, free and fair presidential election... within 90 days."

Top diplomats and observers have excoriated both Odinga and Kenyatta for sowing division with inflammatory rhetoric, and refusing to hold joint meetings with the IEBC that could open the way to a free and fair election.

The IEBC itself has also been riven by internal discord.

Last week, a top commissioner quit her job and fled the country, citing fears for her life and intimidation of poll officials.

Observers limit missions

Weeks of uncertainty have hit east Africa's richest economy hard.

"It's very disturbing, everything is at a standstill. We have to wait for this election to pass to go back to our daily normal routines," said voter Edward Irungu, 31.

Ahuya Achieng, 35, a travel consultant, said: "We are very tired, people say Kenya should move on, but where to?"

The crisis is the worst since a disputed 2007 election sparked months of politically-motivated ethnic violence that left 1,100 dead.

Citing extreme tensions, an uncertain political environment and lack of a fully competitive election, missions from the European Union and Carter Centre have decided to limit their observation of the vote.