Uhuru Kenyatta raises prospect of talks with opponent Raila Odinga, as three people are killed in protests against the rerun election
Jason Burke in Nairobi
President Uhuru Kenyatta has raised the prospect of negotiations with his opponent as millions of Kenyans voted in a contentious election rerun marred by a widely observed boycott and sporadic violence.
Three people died as opposition supporters and police clashed outside polling stations, forcing election officials to postpone voting in parts of the country until Saturday.
The rerun is the latest twist in a long and increasingly chaotic political saga, which has polarised the country, and looks unlikely to end soon.
Before voting began, Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, called on supporters to stay at home, leaving polling stations in his strongholds almost empty, in stark contrast to the first election, which the supreme court annulled last month.
Voting was brisk in areas loyal to Kenyatta, though even here turnout appeared to be significantly lower than for the previous election in August.
“It is important to vote because the current problems are not helpful and we should finish this thing and go back to the routine,” said Peter Mwanda, a 32-year-old businessman, after voting in Roysambu, a neighbourhood in eastern Nairobi.
Kenyatta held out the prospect of negotiations with Odinga after casting his own vote.
“As a responsible leader you must reach out and that is my intention,” the 55-year-old, who has been in power since 2013, told reporters.
Observers pointed out, however, that Kenyatta used similar words after his victory in the August polls but no meaningful dialogue between the rivals had followed.
One man was shot dead and three others injured during protests in Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu. Another was killed in the Mathare slum in the capital, Nairobi, where scattered clashes continued into the early evening.
Senior police officers said the vote had passed off smoothly in most of the country and warned that any attempt to interfere with the transport of ballot papers to counting stations would be met by “stern action”.
Q&A:-Kenya election: what happens next?
Kenya’s election on Thursday is unlikely to bring a resolution to the ongoing political crisis in the east African country.
So far, neither Uhuru Kenyatta – who is assured of victory in the re-run of the polls – nor veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who withdrew from the election and told his supporters not to vote, has shown much willingness to compromise. Kenya is as polarised as it has been for a decade. This means more protests are likely, as well as multiple challenges in the courts over the most recent poll results.
More violence is probable. Most analysts believe anarchy like that after elections in 2007, when more than 1,000 people died, is unlikely but not impossible.
However, this prospect may prompt Kenyatta and Odinga to do a deal. Both are aware that the longer their stand-off lasts, the more damage is done to the country they both profess to serve. But both appear willing to take Kenya to the brink before finally, perhaps, stepping back from disaster.
In Nairobi’s Kibera slum, police fired teargas and live rounds into the air as crowds of youthful opposition supporters threw rocks and tried to storm a polling station at a primary school. Two people were injured with suspected bullet wounds.
“It is a sham election … We will keep fighting until we have Raila as president,” said Brighton, a 21-year-old Kibera resident.
Inside the primary school, officials waited for ballot papers – which finally arrived under heavy police guard five hours late.
“The environment is not welcoming. There is no one willing to come and vote. The staff too are a bit scared to be here because we have been warned that people will come and identify us and there will be problems,” said the presiding officer, a local teacher who requested anonymity for security reasons.
About a quarter of the 180 electoral officials due to work in Kibera have resigned after intimidation in recent days, several said.
As rocks hammered on the school’s tin roof, shots rang out and teargas filled the air, a second official said her “husband, father, son and brother” were among the protesters.
“These are our homes, our families … whoever is being attacked [by police] out there is being attacked in here,” she said.
Not all local residents shared such sentiments, underlining the deep divisions exposed by the political crisis.
Abdul Majiid, a 64-year-old retired machine operator, said he had voted for Kenyatta at the Social Grounds polling station in Kibera.
“I had no problems and I had no worries. It is my right as per the constitution. I voted for the president. Progress in Kenya is very good. We have new railways, new roads, lots of things,” he said.
The electoral commission said voting would be delayed until Saturday in Kisumu, Migori, Siaya and Homa Bay, where a third person died on Thursday, due to “security challenges”.
The rerun election is the latest act of a political drama that began when the supreme court overturned Kenyatta’s victory in the election on 8 August. The president won the poll by nine points but judges cited irregularities and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
The ruling, unprecedented in Africa, was hailed as a victory for democracy on the continent.
Odinga then withdrew from the rerun, citing fears the poll would be marred by the same flaws that saw the August vote overturned.
The opposition boycott is likely to tarnish the credibility of Kenyatta’s victory and the result will inevitably face further legal challenges, analysts say.
There had been widespread fears that logistical and technological problems would cripple the poll. However, officials said they were fully prepared for the vote and their teams had all the necessary equipment.
“There have been no problems. Everything has been smooth,” said Peter Karioke, presiding officer at the Kiboro primary school in Mathare, Nairobi.
Kenya’s supreme court said on Wednesday it could not consider a petition to postpone the controversial vote because not enough justices were available to form a quorum.
Hours later, Odinga called for a campaign of civil disobedience and resistance, telling several thousand supporters in the centre of Nairobi that the polls amounted to a coup d’etat by Kenyatta.
Odinga’s claims of vote rigging after his defeat in 2007 elections prompted rioting and retaliation by security forces which tipped the country into its worst crisis for decades. About 1,200 people were killed in the ethnic violence that followed.
Many Kenyans say the potential for violence has been reduced, because the country has learned from its earlier traumatic experiences. Though 70 people are thought to have been killed in violence since the August poll, widespread clashes have been avoided.