Polling stations in Kenyan opposition strongholds were shuttered on Thursday and youths burnt street barricades, heeding an election boycott set to hand victory to President Uhuru Kenyatta, but with a mandate compromised by low turnout and procedural flaws.
Those shortcomings in Kenya’s election re-run, already acknowledged by judges and the election commission, are likely to trigger legal challenges and could spark violence in a country riven by deep ethnic divisions.
The fresh election follows an August vote whose result, a Kenyatta victory, was annulled by the Supreme Court due to procedural irregularities. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has said he will not take part in the re-run election.
In the western town of Migori, several hundred young men milled around on a main road littered with rubble and burning barricades, according to footage on the domestic NTV channel.
In Kisumu, another western city and the epicenter of support for opposition leader Odinga, polling stations that were meant to open at dawn stayed firmly shut and election officials were nowhere to be found.
The previous evening, one nervous voting officer described his work in the city, the center of major ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, as a “suicide mission”.
Kisumu Central returning officer John Ngutai said only three of his 400 staff had shown up for work and there was no security to deliver ballot boxes.
“We don’t have any options,” he told Reuters, as he and two presiding officers sorted thousands of ballot papers into piles, work that should have been completed the previous day.
Kisumu businessman Joshua Nyamori, 42, was one of the few voters brave enough to defy an Odinga call for a stay-away but could find nowhere to cast his ballot in the city of a million on the shores of Lake Victoria.
“I know it’s not a popular move,” he said. “Residents fear reprisal from political gangs organized by politicians. This is wrong.”