Rival supporters stick to party lines as Kenya readies for fresh polls

NAIROBI – Supporters of both ruling Jubilee Party and opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) vowed to stick to party lines as the two sides continue to bicker over fresh presidential elections set for Oct. 26.

NASA, led by its presidential candidate Raila Odinga, has insisted that there would be no election on Oct. 26 until electoral commission officials who bungled the Aug. 8 polls leave office.

Odinga said elections would only be held if reforms were undertaken at the electoral commission. He named at least five officials whom he accused of presiding over illegalities that led to the nullification of the August presidential election by the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the Jubilee Party, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, has insisted elections would be held as scheduled whether Odinga likes it or not.

By sticking to their hardline stances, both sides have irked a good number of voters as the political stalemate has affected businesses and livelihoods.

Odinga said NASA will stage protests to call for the sacking of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials who “stole” the opposition’s win.

“We don’t fear going to the fresh election, but we will only participate if the electoral commission is reconstituted,” Odinga told a rally in Nairobi on Sunday. “Beginning Tuesday, we will hold protests outside the electoral commission offices to remove those who stole our victory.”

On the other hand, Deputy President William Ruto said the polls would go on whether Odinga participates or not.

“He should allow Kenyans to elect their president without being coerced or intimidated,” Ruto said. “I want to tell Odinga that he has no capacity to stop Kenyans from electing their choice.”

In NASA’s strongholds, a rising number of Odinga’s supporters said they would not vote in the Oct. 26 polls.

“What is the reason of voting if my vote would not count at the end of the day?” Brian Omondi, who runs a welding workshop on the east of Nairobi and has employed four people, said on Sunday.

Omondi said he closed his business On Aug. 8 to take part in the polls, queuing for close to five hours.

On social media, many NASA supporters have been categorical that they will not vote if changes are not effected at the electoral commission.

“I will be candid with the people of Kenya and NASA in general. If Chiloba, Chebukati and Kassait will oversee this election, I will not vote,” said Abrahama Kimutai, a blogger.

Odinga’s political bases are mainly in western, Coast, Nairobi and Nyanza regions. The opposition leader has claimed his wins have been stolen in three elections in 2007, 2013 and 2017, assertions that are deeply ingrained in his supporters.

However, Kenyatta’s Jubilee supporters have vowed to vote in the Oct. 26 elections to give him victory.

“Kenyatta’s birthday is on Oct. 26. Elections will be held on Oct. 26,” said George Kairu, a university student and a Jubilee supporter. “Now I know what to give him as a present — my vote.”

Kairu said NASA’s boycott would only make it easier for Kenyatta to win the new polls.

“These people do not want elections. They know they can’t win. Now they are calling for mass action,” said Susan Kihika, the Jubilee senator representing Nakuru County.

The Oct. 26 date, which would be Kenyatta’s 56th birthday, has become a contentious issue between NASA and Jubilee leaders, with the former believing the electoral commission chose it to influence outcome of the polls.

“Electoral commission is so desperate to give Kenyatta a birthday gift that it wants to hold a fresh presidential election on his birthday. We proposed Oct. 24 or Nov. 1 and they ignored it,” said lawyer Apollo Mboya, an Odinga supporter.

Some analysts fear a low turnout in the Oct. 26 repeat vote, if it went ahead with many NASA supporters staying away.

“Research shows up to 30 percent of voters never turn to vote in repeat polls but in the Kenyan situation the number may go up because of the current standoff,” said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.

“If the changes are not effected as the opposition wants, then expect (the number of people not voting) to rise to millions,” Wandera said, urging the two sides to sit down and agree on issues so that voters are not disillusioned.”

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