NAIROBI The Kenyan government on Monday promised "decisive action" to stem a surge in violence during party primary elections in a country still haunted by the ethnic bloodletting that followed a disputed presidential election a decade ago.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking a second term and three-times defeated presidential challenger Raila Odinga is building an alliance to challenge the Aug 8 general election, which will also include parliamentary and local votes.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said police arrested 17 people after youth supporters of a candidate from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement attacked officials preparing the party's county-level primary vote over the weekend. The incident occurred in the western Migori county.
"Going by the number of incidents of chaos and violence recently experienced during the party primaries, the government has decided to step in and take decisive action to maintain peace and stability," Nkaissery told a news conference.
Political office in Kenya can bring access to power and wealth and voting in national polls often follows ethnic allegiances. But even at a local level, contests for party nominations are often hotly contested.
In other cases related to the primaries, the minister said a parliamentary hopeful and some supporters were arrested with crude weapons in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, a flashpoint in the 2007 violence which killed more than 1,200 people. Meanwhile, in the coastal city of Mombasa, a lawmaker was charged on Monday with inciting violence that led to the destruction of property.
Kenyatta's Jubilee Party has faced its own unrest, forced to postpone its first round of voting in its primaries after violent protests and logistical delays.
The violence in 2007 erupted after Odinga said the vote was rigged in favour of former president Mwai Kibaki, triggering waves of nationwide ethnic killings.
In the following election in 2013, won by Kenyatta, electronic tallying equipment failed, stoking voter concerns of fraud. The opposition, led by Odinga, filed a complaint before the Supreme Court, which upheld the result.
(Reporting by George Obulutsa, Humphrey Malalo and Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Editing by Richard Lough)