Kenya’s election chief was to announce on Sunday whether elections will go forward in flashpoint opposition areas, where a boycott sparked violent protests in a poll set to hand President Uhuru Kenyatta a landslide, but tarnished, win.
With the counting almost done after Thursday’s presidential re-run, the results remained on hold as officials mulled what to do about 25 constituencies where voting was blocked.
There, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga managed to prevent hundreds of polling stations from opening, prompting violent clashes with police which continued for several days, leaving nine dead and scores injured.
At least 49 people have died since the first presidential election of August 8, which was later overturned, prompting Kenya’s worst political crisis in a decade.
Following Odinga’s boycott, Kenyatta is almost guaranteed a crushing win.
But it was looking ever more like a Pyrrhic victory with low turnout figures likely to tarnish the credibility of a vote that has deeply polarised the nation and sparked international concern about the future of east Africa’s most stable democracy.
With ballots checked and verified from 235 of the 265 constituencies where voting actually took place, the counting process was drawing to a close, although it remained unclear whether a result could actually be announced without figures from areas where voting was blocked.
With the nation in waiting, Odinga showed up at a church in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum which has been rocked by fierce clashes over the last few days.
“No Raila, no peace!” chanted the large crowd which had gathered outside to hear him speak, some of whom had marched over from Kibera, another of the city’s poorest districts.
“We are telling Uhuru… the people of Kenya will not be ruled by the gun,” he said in Swahili, to whistles and cheers.
“You cannot kill people because they did not vote.”
Plans to restage the vote in the rebel western regions on Saturday were quickly called off after a second day of protests over fears for the safety of polling staff, with election chief Wafula Chebukati saying he would make another announcement on Sunday.
Thursday’s presidential re-run was ordered by Kenya’s Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes in a ruling that said the vote must be completed by October 31.
“None of the questions raised by the Supreme Court’s nullification of the original vote were answered by the election,” wrote Nic Cheeseman, an expert on African politics at Birmingham University in central England.
And although the official results were likely to notch up a landslide for Kenyatta, “the low turnout and the circumstances surrounding the polls means that his government has gained little.
“Given all this, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was an election in which there were no winners,” wrote.
Although the protests largely tailed off on Saturday after the election chief postponed plans for a repeat vote in the west, tensions remained high with scuffles reported in several areas and even isolated incidents of politically-driven ethnic violence between neighbours in the Nairobi slums.
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta — whose fathers were rivals before them — has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group and the one to which Kenyatta belongs, have long been accused of holding a monopoly on power and resources, while the Luos, among them Odinga and his supporters, have felt marginalised and excluded for decades.
Kenya’s political crisis is the worst since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.
Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.