- - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a critical U.S. ally that serves as the economic engine of East Africa, another contested — and likely indecisive — political election was the last thing Kenya needs. But as the country braces for a revote of an August presidential election that was overturned because of gross irregularities, more uncertainty and instability appear to be the only winners on the ballot.

Nerves are on edge here ahead of Thursday’s vote, as supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who finished second in the invalidated vote, vowed to boycott the election to protest suspected corruption in the run-up to round two.

Opposition demonstrators wearing orange caps and T-shirts poured into downtown Nairobi on Wednesday to demand electoral reforms before the vote. President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose past electoral triumphs over Mr. Odinga led to bitter tribal feuding and bloodshed, insists the election will go off as scheduled.

“We are not going to participate in the repeat elections tomorrow,” vowed Eugene Onyango, waving a portrait of Mr. Odinga. “We cannot take part in an election which has already been rigged in favor of President Uhuru Kenyatta. I know there’s no election that’s perfect, but we want one that’s fair enough for all.”

In a nationally televised address, Mr. Kenyatta said security forces would ensure a peaceful election.

“Let no one infringe on the right of the other person,” he said. “How you vote should not change how you relate with your neighbor. Please go home after you cast your vote. Go back to your neighbor since he or she is your brother and sister.”

Peter Wafula Wekesa, a political analyst at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, said the political and tribal tensions sparked by the extended electoral standoff had brought business in the country to a standstill.

“We are seeing a resurgence of a culture of impunity and undermining of independent institutions,” said Mr. Wekesa. “Economically, every sector is folding and will soon ground to a halt.”

Long lines formed in Kenyan supermarkets as people stocked up on supplies ahead of the vote, The Associated Press reported.

Nairobi resident Cosmas Butunyi said Kenyans were panic-shopping. “I had gone to buy milk for the week and I found long lines, so I also decided to stock up,” Mr. Butunyi told AP.

Running for his second five-year term, Mr. Kenyatta won the first ballot on Aug. 8, garnering 54 percent to Mr. Odinga’s 44 percent, according to the officially reported result. But about a month later, the Kenyan Supreme Court nullified the vote and scheduled a do-over after Mr. Odinga claimed someone had tampered electronically with the results.

Since then, Mr. Odinga has been demanding changes, particularly the resignations of elections officials accused of orchestrating the tampering on Aug. 8.

Addressing a mammoth crowd Wednesday in the capital, Nairobi, Mr. Odinga said his coalition would work with the public to protect Kenya’s constitution, which states that election bodies must be independent. He wanted officials to postpone the election another 90 days to ensure Mr. Kenyatta’s operatives would not influence the process.

“We call upon our supporters not to vote and to convince their neighbors not to take part in the poll because it is a Jubilee election,” he said at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, referring to Mr. Kenyatta’s political party. “We call on Kenyans who love democracy to hold vigils and prayers and stay away from polling stations. We are aware that they plan to massacre our people. Let us deny them that chance.”

The U.S. government, expressing concern about a key ally, warned both main parties against efforts “to interfere with and undermine the independent operation of the electoral commission, the judiciary and other essential institutions.”

A State Department statement urges Kenyans to remain calm and reject violence.

Going ahead

But officials at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, or IEBC, announced they would go ahead with the vote.

“Fellow Kenyans, I wish to announce to you today on behalf of IEBC that based on assurances given to this commission by the relevant authorities, the elections as scheduled, will go on tomorrow, October 26 and all polling stations will open at 6 a.m.,” IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said in a statement.

That decision was made after Mr. Chebukati acknowledged last week that the commission was likely not ready to conduct a free and fair poll. Civil rights groups immediately appealed to the Supreme Court to postpone the election. The court was scheduled to rule on their case Wednesday, but, in an extraordinary turn of events, failed to do so after only one judge appeared for its session. At least five of the eight judges have to be sitting for the court to render judgments.

Mr. Odinga said the government has been intimidating judges since the nullification of Mr. Uhuru’s victory. A gang attacked and shot Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu’s driver on Wednesday.

“These acts of intimidation have gone beyond the courts,” said James Orengo, Mr. Odinga’s attorney. “In the last 48 hours, there have been attacks and detentions. We wish to express our disappointment with what happened to Mwilu.”

The ruling Jubilee Party rejected Mr. Odinga’s claims.

Mr. Odinga’s supporters have also discussed blocking officials from opening polls in regions where opposition support is strongest.

But acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi said such actions were criminal.

“It is right of every citizen to participate or not participate either as a voter or a candidate in an election,” he said. “However, it is an offense under the Elections Offenses Act to use force or violence to prevent another person from voting.”

Violence has marred the past few Kenyan presidential elections, in part because most voters opt for candidates based on their tribal affiliations rather than platforms or other factors. Mr. Kenyatta comes from the Kikuyu tribe, the country’s largest, and Mr. Odinga is a Luo, the country’s fourth-largest tribe.

Since the August vote, at least 69 people have died in political violence in Kenya, according to human rights groups. In 2007, about 1,500 died and as many as 600,000 people fled their homes out of fear of violence.

Mr. Kenyatta’s supporters insist they are ready for the vote. Jubilee-allied politicians have been offering free transportation to party supporters to ensure everyone participates.

“I’m traveling to go and vote for Uhuru again,” said Gilbert Mungai, who was boarding a bus in Nairobi to his hometown Gatundu, an Uhuru stronghold, where his voting address was located — a typical practice in Kenya. “Raila knows he will be defeated again. That’s the reason he has withdrawn from the race. We wish him well.”

But Mr. Onyango said it was not fair for people to participate in an election that is not free and fair. “It will not be an election,” he said. “People from Uhuru’s tribe will be electing their tribal king but not a president.”

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