Only a third of registered voters cast a ballot in Kenya’s presidential election rerun on Thursday, according to the country’s independent election commission chairman.
The 33% turnout was considerably lower than at the initial poll held in August, when almost 80% of the 19.6 million registered voters took part.
Kenya’s highest court nullified the first election — won by incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta — over irregularities raised by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, paving the way for this week’s vote.
Kenyatta is seeking a second five-year term. But in a surprise move, Odinga quit the race earlier this month, after his demands for procedural reform were not met.
Speaking to CNN on Friday, Odinga said that he was left with no choice but to withdraw from what he called a “pre-rigged election” that was “a waste of time” and resources.
He said the low voter turnout amounted to a “vote of no confidence” in the electoral process and that the opposition will now use all legal avenues available to put pressure on the government.
“We are going to use legal means, our constitution allows for picketing, for peaceful demonstrations and boycotts,” Odinga added.
Odinga: Poll boycott reveals voter fatigue
The voting authority has seven days to declare a winner, but a Kenyatta victory now appears likely.
Voting appeared peaceful in most of the country on Thursday but the low turnout suggests many of Odinga’s supporters acquiesced to his call for a boycott of the ballot.
The turnout figure released by the electoral commission does not include several counties where voting was initially suspended until Saturday, before being indefinitely postponed, after skirmishes between demonstrators and police broke out. Some of the counties are areas are where opposition support is high.
“It is becoming risky for our officials so instead of pushing it, the best thing would be to postpone it until it is safe to do it,” Andrew Limo, a spokesman for the electoral board, told CNN on Friday.
Only elections in Fafi and Turkana Central constituencies will go ahead on Saturday.
Limo did not know how this indefinite delay would impact the announcement of the presidential winner, which is required seven days after the vote by the constitution.
Odinga also told CNN on Friday that his resistance movement is appealing to ordinary Kenyans who are tired of Kenyatta’s administration “discriminating against them on the basis of their ethnicity” and that he had suggested talks before the poll, only to be rejected.
Ethnic bonds are often stronger than national identity in Kenya, which has at least 40 ethnic groups. Odinga is a member of the Luo community, which some say has become increasingly marginalized in recent years.
Kenyatta hails from the country’s largest community, the Kikuyu. Mostly originating from Kenya’s central highlands, the Kikuyu have long been accused of wielding strong economic and political power in the country.
At least five people died in violence linked to Thursday’s election, according to Kenya’s National Police Service and the country’s Red Cross.
In a statement Friday, police service spokesman George Kinoti confirmed one person was shot dead by police in Homa Bay county, while two others died from gunshot wounds in the western town of Kisumu.
The Red Cross said one person was killed during opposition demonstrations in Nairobi’s Mathare slum on Thursday. An eyewitness said the man was shot as police dispersed protesters.
The NGO said another man died after he was hit by a stray bullet during running battles between police and protesters in Bungoma county on Friday morning.
Polling stations closed
Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of Kenya’s electoral board, said 5,319 polling stations out of more than 40,000 had not opened. He added that they had been prevented from opening by bad weather and “security” issues.
When asked if any additional security measures are being put in place for Saturday, he said that “the commission is under duty to give voters the right to vote” and that at this point they “cannot make a decision whether to extend the right to vote beyond Saturday” if clashes with opposition supporters interfere with people’s ability to get to the polls again.
Linus Kaikai, chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, said Thursday that the opposition had proved to be too strong in its heartland.
“It’s very unlikely another try (at holding an election) will work at all because the clear message from that side of the country and the leadership of the opposition is they cannot take part in this exercise,” he added.
“They want the reforms they have demanded to be carried out in the IEBC, they basically want a different environment and a new general election altogether.”
Thursday’s rerun revealed the deep divisions running through Kenya. Headlines splashing the front pages of local newspapers on Friday read: “One Kenya: Two Faces” and “The Big Divide.”
Many are questioning the legitimacy of Thursday’s election given how few people chose to head to the polls, but a Kenyatta spokesperson told CNN that just because people didn’t turn up to vote does not mean that they all back Odinga.
Observers will be paying close attention to how the situation unfolds in the coming days. As the largest economy in east Africa, any unrest could have ripple effects far beyond the nation of 47 million people.
Kenya’s Elections Observation Group said 1,773 field observers had been deployed to 215 of the 290 constituencies to monitor the voting process. It said personnel were not deployed to some counties “due to security concerns.”
In a statement on Friday, it said: “There is need for urgent, inclusive dialogue led by Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga as soon as possible. This will not only address the political impasse but also start to pull Kenya back together to ensure political, economic and social inclusion and cohesion.”
Many view Kenya’s fate as a key indicator for stability in a region that includes the fledgling Somali government and politically tense Sudan and South Sudan.
Ongoing uncertainty has left residents of the east African economic powerhouse on edge. The election has become so divisive, it has revived fears of violence like that experienced in 2007 and 2008, when at least 1,000 people were killed in Kenya.
After Kenyatta was declared the winner in the August vote, sporadic clashes erupted in some areas, leaving at least 24 people dead.