Opposition supporters in Kenya have fought running battles with police as voters headed to the polls in a contentious election rerun that has polarised the country.
Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, has called for a boycott and in stark contrast to the first election, which the supreme court annulled last month, many polling stations in opposition strongholds saw only a trickle of voters.
In areas loyal to Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent who won the original election, voting was brisk, though turnout appeared to be lower than for the previous election.
In Nairobi’s Kibera slum, tangled wire and charred streets marked the spots where there had been sporadic outbreaks of violence overnight.
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 in the centre of the slum.
“It is a sham election … We will keep fighting until we have Raila as president,” said Brighton, a 21 year old Kibera resident among the protestors.
Similar scenes were repeated in the western towns of Migori, Siaya and Homa Bay.
The election is the latest act of a chaotic political drama that began when the supreme court overturned the victory of Kenyatta in the election on 8 August. It cited irregularities and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Kenyatta is assured victory after the veteran Odinga withdrew, citing fears the poll would be marred by the same flaws that saw the August vote overturned.
The boycott, in an acrimonious political environment marked by violence and intimidation, is likely to tarnish the credibility of Kenyatta’s victory and the result will inevitably face further legal challenges, analysts say.
Supporters of Raila Odinga set up burning barricades in Nairobi’s Kibera slum.
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Supporters of Raila Odinga set up burning barricades in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA
Hilda Nyaga, the deputy presiding officer at the Social Grounds polling station on the edge of Kibera, said she had seen fewer than 50 voters since 6am. “Last time it was so busy there were very long queues. Now it is very quiet,” she said.
Contrary to expectations, preparations had run smoothly for the polls and her team had all the necessary equipment, she said. Other election officials, however, said there had been a wave of resignations of colleagues working in and around Kibera on Wednesday following threats and intimidation. Around a quarter of the 180 electoral officials due to work in Kibera have resigned in recent days, they said.
Isaac Konyango, the deputy presiding officer of a polling station at the Raila education centre, said his site had been shut down by a crowd of opposition supporters at about 9am on Thursday and that it would not reopen. “There is no going back,” he said.
No one had voted at the Olympic primary school polling station, where missiles hurled by protestors bounced off the roof of the polling station and tear gas filled the air.
“People are scared,” said the presiding officer, a local teacher who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
In Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu, several polling stations failed to open and police fired teargas to disperse groups of young men throwing stones.
In Kisumu Central, constituency returning officer John Ngutai said no voting materials had been distributed and only three of his 400 staff had turned up for work.
In a statement on Thursday Odinga said the opposition would press for fresh elections that it deemed credible. The day before, he called for a campaign of civil disobedience and resistance, telling several thousand supporters in the centre of Nairobi that the polls were a sham and amounted to a coup d’etat by Kenyatta.
There was relief that Odinga did not call for protests, which could have led to widespread violence. Instead he told supporters to “hold vigils and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home”.s.
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.
Speaking after voting on Thursday, Kenyatta said the poll showed Kenya was “maturing as a democracy”.
Kenya’s supreme court had said on Wednesday that it could not consider a petition to postpone the controversial vote because not enough justices were available to form a quorum.
Odinga’s claims of vote-rigging after his defeat in 2007 elections prompted rioting and retaliation by the 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 is reduced now, 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.
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