KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police fired teargas on Tuesday to disperse hundreds of people who took to the streets to protest the outcome of a regional party primary in the west of the country.
This month’s primaries, where voters choose party candidates, have been a chaotic affair, marked by violent clashes, cancellation of results and claims of rigging.
The problems have raised fears over the planning for a national vote on Aug. 8 and whether there may be further violence in Kenya, a key Western ally in a volatile region and East Africa’s largest economy.
Voters will pick a president, parliament and local authorities, a decade after 1,200 people were killed in ethnic violence following a disputed presidential election.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which will conduct the election, said it would punish those behind cases of violence in the primaries.
Tuesday’s protesters were angered by the results of a primary that re-elected the incumbent governor of the Homa Bay county, Cyprian Awiti, to run for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in August.
At least one person was injured in the fracas, said Willy Lugusa, the police commander for the region, adding police dispersed the protesters to prevent damage to private property.
“We are not using live bullets, we are only using teargas when people are demonstrating in a manner that is likely to cause the breach of the peace,” he told Reuters.
ODM, which is led by the main opposition leader Raila Odinga, said it had suspended the results of the Homa Bay poll for governor, and those of the neighbouring Migori county, and had formed a team of three people to investigate both polls.
The IEBC said all parties and their aspirants were bound to act peacefully during the primaries in line with the electoral code of conduct.
“We will impose sanctions against candidates and political parties who contravene the code,” the commission said in a statement, pledging to do all it can to ensure a free and fair election in August.
Contests to lead the country’s 47 local authorities, known as counties, are hard-fought affairs. The winners will control annual budgets of billions of shillings.
ODM postponed its primaries in the capital Nairobi on Tuesday after youths stormed a store where ballot papers were held, claiming they wanted to prevent rigging, a party spokesman said.
The ruling Jubilee party annulled the results of its primary elections in several counties on Friday after widespread protests over shortages of voting materials. The party started repeating them on Monday.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is running for a second and final five-year term for Jubilee. The main opposition coalition, bringing together Odinga and four other leaders, was expected to name its candidate later this week.
Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations at USIU-Africa university in Nairobi, said the violence in primaries was being sponsored by corrupt politicians.
“There is a linkage between corruption and violence,” he said. “Refusing to accept honest results - that’s corruption.”
Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Catherine Evans