Kenya’s leader urges peace ahead of vote as tensions rise

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta
Updated 22 October 2017
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Kenya’s leader urges peace ahead of vote as tensions rise

NAIROBI: President Uhuru Kenyatta urged Kenyans to remain peaceful ahead of Thursday’s fresh presidential election, while a witness said police shot and wounded at least one person amid a rise in ethnic tensions in the capital, Nairobi.
A resident of the low-income Lucky Summer neighborhood said tensions grew after members of Kenyatta’s ethnic Kikuyu community performed a ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep. Some residents interpreted it as a war ceremony. Others said it was a ceremony to recruit members of the Mungiki, a proscribed quasi-religious gang known for beheadings that has been used in past elections to attack supporters of the opposition, Sheila Kariuki said.
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga went to the site of the ceremony and police shot at them when an argument started, Kariuki said. Running battles between stone-throwing residents ensued until local legislator Tom Kajwang arrived and calmed the Odinga supporters, Kariuki said.
Kajwang condemned the police for allowing the meeting to occur.
“This is intimidation that we won’t allow. This is aimed at provoking us and we will protect ourselves,” he said.
Area police chief Alice Kimeli confirmed that police had shot one person and said the group performing the ceremony had asked for police protection.
Kenyatta’s re-election in August was nullified by the Supreme Court, citing irregularities, and a fresh election was ordered. Tensions have increased ahead of Thursday’s vote, which Odinga has said he is boycotting because the electoral commission has not made the reforms he seeks.
One member of Kenya’s electoral commission has resigned, and its chairman has said it will be difficult to guarantee that the new vote will be credible.
Human rights groups have accused Kenyatta’s government of using police to clamp down on dissent. Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week said police killed at least 67 opposition supporters in demonstrations after the results of the August vote were announced.
Violence has followed some previous elections. During a prayer meeting on Sunday, Kenyatta said the country narrowly avoided plunging into civil war after the flawed 2007 election, when more than 1,000 people were killed. Kenyatta was charged with orchestrating that violence, but the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped the charges while citing threats to witnesses, bribery and interference.
Without citing the election, Pope Francis on Sunday spoke of his hopes for Kenya, telling faithful in St. Peter’s Square that the nation was in his thoughts.
“I am following, with particular attention, Kenya, which I visited in 2015, and for which I pray so that all the country will know how to face the current difficulties in a climate of constructive dialogue, having at heart the search for the common good,” the pope said.


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.