Kenya Elections: Polls Open for 2nd Vote in Nearly 3 Months

Polls opened in Kenya for the nation’s second presidential election in nearly three months, and there were reports of some minor scuffling as protesters tried to block the vote.

The police fired tear gas at protesters in Kibera, a Nairobi neighborhood, according to The Associated Press.

While some polling stations in opposition areas did not open, reflecting the main opposition leader’s call for a boycott, voting proceeded calmly in areas where President Uhuru Kenyatta has support.

The political crisis i deepened on Wednesday when the country’s Supreme Court did not hear a case that could have delayed the presidential election. Not enough judges were in attendance, Chief Justice David Maraga said.

The court’s inability to rule meant that the vote was allowed to proceed as planned; Mr. Kenyatta is almost certain to win. He has been accused of fraud by his longtime rival Raila Odinga, who dropped out of the race, saying it would not be fair.

Observers fear the voting could erupt into violence. Protests in Augustagainst the first election turned into clashes that left dozens dead. Violence also broke out after President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected in a 2007 race against Mr. Odinga: At least 1,300 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in ethnic conflict. But a 2013 contest between the two men was largely peaceful.

Here’s what we know about the recent events.

What happened in court on Wednesday?

Only two of the seven judges showed up at a last-minute petition to delay the election. Since five are needed for a quorum, the Supreme Court said, it could not hear the case.

One of the judges, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, did not appear “following the events of last night,” Justice Magara said, referring to a gunman’s attack on her bodyguard Tuesday night in Nairobi.

Justice Magara said another judge was “unwell and out of the country for treatment,” while another was not able to get a flight back to Nairobi in time for the hearing.

He also acknowledged but did not explain the absence of the remaining two judges.

How did the election conflict begin?

Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga have been rivals for years. Mr. Odinga became prime minister under a power-sharing deal that followed the 2007 violence. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2013 against Mr. Kenyatta, who is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

Mr. Odinga challenged the 2013 election results, but they were upheld by the Supreme Court. In August, Mr. Kenyatta won re-election with 54 percent of the vote in another contest against Mr. Odinga, who again challenged the results.

Mr. Odinga said the vote had been marred by procedural irregularities and widespread vote-rigging. This time, the Supreme Court nullified the result, citing irregularities in the vote, and called for new presidential elections to be held by the end of October — a historic rebuke of a sitting head of state.

How tense is the second campaign?

The rhetoric has been heated, and rights groups say roughly 70 people have been killed across the country since the original vote.

Protesters gathered in the western port city of Kisumu and in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park on Wednesday to demonstrate against the looming ballot.

On Twitter, the main opposition group, the National Super Alliance, warned, “The primary responsibility, if the worst occurs, lies squarely with Kenyatta.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Odinga announced his withdrawal from the race, saying that he believed the second election would be “worse than the previous one” because the electoral commission had not made changes to its operation or its staffing.

But Mr. Odinga did not file the paperwork that would have formally removed him from the race, so his name appears on the ballot, according to election commissioners.

Last week, a senior official, Roselyn Akombe, resigned from Kenya’s election commission and fled the country. In a statement issued from New York, she said the election staff members feared for their safety, and she warned that the poll results would not be credible.

Hours later, Kenya’s top election official, Wafula Chebukati, seemed to agree. He warned that he could not “truly be confident of the possibility of having a credible presidential election” unless the political parties agreed to dialogue.

In anticipation of demonstrations, the Kenyan police said they would not allow the National Super Alliance to hold a rally at the capital’s Freedom Park ahead of its boycott of the election on Thursday.


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