KAMPALA, Uganda — Kenyans were voting Thursday in a repeat presidential election that has East Africa’s economic power on edge once more. The Supreme Court shocked Africa last month by nullifying the president’s re-election citing illegalities and irregularities. The opposition leader then dropped out of the race, saying adequate reforms haven’t been made. Top election officials have said they can’t guarantee the vote will be credible. The elections were taking place amid fears of intimidation and violence.
Here’s a look at the key issues:
Who knows? Opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose legal challenge claiming vote-rigging led to this new election, said he wouldn’t take part because adequate electoral reforms have not been made. Now he vows to turn his political coalition into a “resistance movement.” But the electoral commission said Odinga would be on the ballot because he didn’t turn in a formal withdrawal form. This year’s election had been seen as the last attempt at the presidency by the 72-year-old son of Kenya’s first vice president.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who called the Supreme Court justices “crooks” after they nullified his re-election, had insisted the new vote go ahead. The son of Kenya’s first president is on the ballot along with all other candidates who ran in August. The 56-year-old Kenyatta wants to avoid becoming the first Kenyan president not to win re-election.
No other candidate in August won even 1 percent of the vote.
WILL THERE BE VIOLENCE?
Kenya has seen deadly post-election violence in the past, notably after the disputed vote of 2007 when more than 1,000 people were killed. Officials in the nation of 44 million people have said the country has learned the lessons of the past and that such bloodshed will be avoided now.
Still, dozens have died since the August vote. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say police have killed at least 67 opposition supporters since the election results were announced. Meanwhile, Kenyatta supporters accuse the opposition of attacking preparations for Thursday’s vote in some areas.
The driver for the Supreme Court’s deputy chief justice was shot and wounded the evening before the court was to consider a last-minute petition by activists to delay Thursday’s vote. The petition could not be heard because just two of the six justices showed up. The shooting raised concerns about intimidation and recalled the murder shortly before the August vote of the electoral commission official responsible for the electronic voting system.
Kenya remains largely ethnically divided, with many voters seeing Kenyatta as the candidate of the Kikuyu people, the country’s largest ethnic group, and Odinga representing the Luo, who have never produced a head of state.
WHAT WENT WRONG THE FIRST TIME?
The Supreme Court last month said the August election had “irregularities and illegalities,” notably in the electronic transmission of voting results. It was the first time a court in Africa had overturned the results of a presidential election.
Odinga, who claimed the electoral commission’s electronic voting system had been hacked, has demanded that electoral commissioners be replaced, among other reforms. He then shocked the country by withdrawing from Thursday’s vote, saying his concerns had not been addressed. He urged supporters to stay home on election day.
IS KENYA READY TO VOTE AGAIN?
Many Kenyans were alarmed last week when the electoral commission chairman, Wafula Chebukati, said it would be “difficult to guarantee a free, fair and credible” election despite what he called “full technical preparedness.”
Chebukati said he had tried to make critical decisions to reform the election commission but was overruled each time by most commissioners. Meanwhile another top commission official, Roselyn Akombe, resigned and fled to the United States, saying the new vote cannot be free and fair.
“Not when the staff are getting last-minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results. Not when in parts of the country, the training of presiding officers is being rushed for fear of attacks from protesters,” Akombe said. She said she left Kenya because she feared for her safety.