NAIROBI: Kenyans vote on Thursday in a presidential election re-run overshadowed by an opposition boycott that will almost certainly hand victory to President Uhuru Kenyatta, but with a mandate compromised by low turnout and procedural flaws.
Those shortcomings, already acknowledged by judges and the election commission, are likely to trigger legal challenges.
In an address to supporters in central Nairobi, opposition leader Raila Odinga said he would take no part in the re-run because of a failure to replace election commission officials after the Supreme Court annulled the initial vote in August.
A decade after 1,200 people were killed over another disputed election, many Kenyans have been bracing for violence again. Odinga urged his supporters to stay at home and out of the way of police.
"We advise Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigil and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home," he said on Wednesday, to cheers from a 6,000-strong crowd.
In Odinga strongholds such as the western city of Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, there were no signs of polling stations being set up and the few election officials to be found were cowering in an empty community hall.
"Going out of that gate with this ballot box is like a suicide mission," said Evans, a 26-year-old polling official who asked that his surname not be published.
Of the 400 polling station officials due to report for duty at Kisumu's Lions Club High School, only 19 pitched up. Drivers meant to transport them to and from polling stations also failed to show.
Odinga's National Super Alliance coalition, which has been accused of harassing polling staff, is likely to present such absences as proof that the re-run, organised in less than 60 days, is illegitimate and bogus.
The head of the election commission said last week he could not guarantee a free and fair vote, citing interference from politicians and threats of violence against his colleagues. One election commissioner has quit and fled the country.
At his election-eve rally, Odinga said he would keep up the pressure for another re-run under the auspices of a new, reformed election commission within 90 days.
Kenyatta, the U.S.-educated son of Kenya's founding father, has made clear he sees Thursday's vote as legitimate.
Although Odinga has backed off from earlier calls for protests on election day, police are expected to be out in force, especially in Kisumu and Nairobi's slums, where nearly 50 people have been killed by security forces since the August vote.
The election is being closely watched across East Africa, which relies on Kenya as a trade and logistics hub, and in the West, for whom Nairobi is a bulwark against Islamist militancy in Somalia and civil conflict in South Sudan and Burundi.
"I tell all our international partners that we will get through this," Kenyatta said in an election-eve address in which he urged national unity to support flagging growth in what has been one of Africa's most vibrant economies.
"We must return to work," he said. "We cannot remain in a perpetual state of politicking."
(Additional reporting by Maggie Fick, David Lewis and John Ndiso in Nairobi and Baz Ratner in Kisumu; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Roche)