NAIROBI — Tensions rose in Kenya on Thursday as the government banned demonstrations and indicated that it would go ahead with an election rerun that the opposition is convinced cannot be free and fair under the current system.
The order sets authorities on a collision course with supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who earlier this week pulled out of the Oct. 26 vote. Major demonstrations against the electoral commission, which the opposition sees as favoring incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, have been called for Friday.
Last month, the Supreme Court invalidated the results of an Aug. 8 presidential election Kenyatta won, after allegations of widespread irregularities in vote counting. It ordered that new elections be held within 60 days.
Odinga directed much of the blame for the lapses at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and called for electoral reforms. But he said this week that not enough has been done to address the problems and boycotted the new vote.
Odinga's backers have held weekly demonstrations against the commission. Some of the protests have turned violent and damaged property. The decree bans demonstrations in Kenya's three biggest cities: Mombasa. Kisumu and Nairobi, the capital.
"We cannot go on this way. It is unfortunate to see people's cars being smashed, property being destroyed in the guise of peaceful demonstrations. We must respect the law," Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said.
Odinga, who has waged four previous unsuccessful campaigns for president, accused the IEBC of refusing to undertake any meaningful reforms and warned that the revote was shaping up to be even more flawed than the original election.
Rather than postpone the new election or address his complaints, the IEBC said Wednesday that the vote would go forward and would include six minor candidates.
Previously, the rerun was to have involved only Kenyatta and Odinga. With none of the other candidates having garnered more than 1 percent of the vote in August, the incumbent was expected to notch an easy win in the new election.
On Tuesday, Kenyatta's Jubilee Party, which holds a majority in parliament, passed amendments to the electoral law that appeared designed to legalize many of the voting irregularities that prompted the high court to toss out the original election results.
One amendment says that if any candidate were to pull out of an election rerun involving two hopefuls, the remaining candidate would automatically win. The amendments await the approval of the Senate and the president.
Solomon Owuoche, a professor of political science at the University of Nairobi, warned that such amendments are dangerous.
"Regardless of what we will witness in the next weeks or months, these laws will one day come to haunt us," Owuoche said. "Changing laws is not the solution to the crisis."
He said the political turmoil is undermining the very purpose of elections, which is to create political legitimacy.
"The elections will be held, but there will be one party who will not agree with the results and there is a possibility the elections will be annulled again," he added. "Then the shenanigans will continue."
On Wednesday, thousands of Odinga supporters demonstrated in front of IEBC offices in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. They were dispersed with tear gas, and injuries were reported.
Politics in Kenya often has strong ethnic undertones, and the 2007 elections unleashed weeks of violence in which at least 1,400 people died.
Kenyatta, who presents himself as a pro-business candidate, is from the dominant Kikuyu tribe. Odinga, who is focusing on combating corruption and helping the disenfranchised, is from the smaller Luo tribe.
The uncertainty and prolonged election season have been hard on Kenya's economy, normally one of the region's most robust. The stock market has been down, and the Reuters news agency reported that the government trimmed 2017 growth forecasts to 5.5 percent from 5.9 percent.
Schemm reported from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.