Kenya plunged deeper into crisis yesterday after a no-show by the majority of Supreme Court judges scuppered an eleventh-hour petition to delay a presidential election and the governor of a volatile opposition region endorsed rebellion against the state. Within minutes of Supreme Court chief justice David Maraga announcing that five judges had failed to turn up, preventing a quorum, hundreds of supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga took to the streets of Kisumu, his main stronghold.

Riot police used teargas to disperse them. In his announcement on live television, Maraga said one judge was unwell, another was abroad and another was unable to attend after her bodyguard was shot and injured on Tuesday night. It was unclear why the other two were absent. Odinga had successfully challenged the outcome of an initial ballot in August, which he lost, in the same court.

“We were expecting Maraga to cancel (today’s) elections. This means the push for postponement of the election is on,” said George Mbija, a motorcycle taxi driver in the western city, repeating an Odinga demand for a clear-out of election board officials. Meanwhile, Odinga yesterday afternoon said his political alliance will be transformed into a “resistance movement”, as he called on supporters to boycott a presidential election rerun.

Odinga made the remarks just hours after the country’s electoral commission said the vote would go ahead.

“Do not participate in any way in the sham election. Convince your friends, neighbours and everyone else to not participate,” he told supporters in the Kenyan capital. We advice Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigilance prayers or stay at home,” added Odinga, leader of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition. Reiterating that he will not take part in the poll, Odinga said his opposition alliance would now be transformed into a resistance movement against the government.

Kenya is holding the election rerun after the country’s Supreme Court annulled the results of an August 8 poll, following a challenge by Odinga, due to “irregularities” and “illegalities” in the electoral process. President Uhuru Kenyatta had been declared the winner of that vote. Odinga pulled out of the new race earlier this month after claiming opposition demands to overhaul the country’s election body had not been met. Kisumu governor Anyang Nyong‘o, a hardline Odinga supporter, went a step further.

“If the government subverts the sovereign will of the people . . . then people are entitled to rebel against this government,” Nyong‘o told reporters in Kisumu. Such comments seem certain to fuel fears of a major confrontation with security forces, already blamed for killing nearly 50 people in Kisumu and Nairobi slums after the canceled August vote. For many in East Africa’s economic powerhouse, the instability will also rekindle memories of large-scale ethnic violence that killed 1 200 people following a disputed election in 2007. President Kenyatta, has made it clear he wants the rerun to go ahead and with the Supreme Court — the only institution that can delay it — unable to meet, it appears he will get his way.

“God is great! The evil schemes to deny Kenyans the right to vote kesho (tomorrow) have failed. WE WILL DECIDE and move our country forward tomorrow,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a tweet. Election board lawyer Paul Muite said Maraga’s statement meant the election would proceed as planned.

“It means elections are on tomorrow (today). There is no order stopping the election,” he told the Citizen TV station. If the election goes ahead, it is likely to deepen the ethnic and political divides that have frequently sparked violence in Kenya, a key Western ally in a turbulent region. Both the European Union and the Carter Center, an election-monitoring group run by former President Jimmy Carter, have said they will reduce their monitoring missions amid rising tensions between the Kenyatta and Odinga camps. Foreign observers were heavily criticised by the opposition in August for focusing on the vote, rather than the tallying process led by the IEBC election board.

“The current political impasse constrains the IEBC’s ability to conduct a credible election,” the Carter Center said.
“There is a serious risk of election-related violence should the elections go forward.” — Reuters/Daily Nation.