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Kenyan elections: battle for control of State House

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Picture: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters – Various political parties delegates and officials from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) meet at the IEBC National Tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya, in Nairobi, Kenya.

By Chad Williams

Kenyans are anxiously waiting for the results of the country’s presidential election after a largely peaceful poll, with preliminary results suggesting a tight race while low turnout pointed to growing frustration with the political elite. Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, have vowed to maintain calm following Tuesday’s poll, but the memory of past election-related violence remains fresh for many Kenyans.

With pressure building on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which has to declare the results by August 16, officials worked overnight to count votes under the watchful eye of observers. The complicated process of verifying and tallying votes is expected to take days, and IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati urged Kenyans to be patient, keen to avoid rigging allegations that have haunted previous polls.

As results trickled out, Amnesty International and several Kenyan civil society groups voiced concern about “rising levels of false or misleading information” being shared on social media. It said in a statement that several posts by candidates and their supporters in the rival Odinga and Ruto camps had “intentionally sought to misinform the electorate and the public on the electoral process and the election results”. International observers expressed concern on Thursday about the spread of disinformation during the long wait for results from Kenya’s election, as provisional counts point to a tight presidential race. Preliminary results broadcast by local media at the time of publication indicated that Ruto and Odinga were neck-and-neck, raising the likelihood of a challenge by the losing candidate.

No presidential poll outcome has gone uncontested in Kenya since 2002, and the disputes have led to bloodshed in the past, involving either ethnic clashes or police violence. Some citizens are worried the media’s differing tallies could inflame claims of rigging, which have sparked violence in past elections. Many urged fellow citizens to wait for the official results. They are also wondering if Martha Karua might be their first female vice-president, becoming the highest ranking woman in the history of a country where female candidates are often physically attacked.

Giant billboards adorn the capital Nairobi, showing the 64-year-old former justice minister accompanied by presidential candidate and veteran opposition leader Odinga, a former political prisoner. The two head the Azimio La Umoja (One Kenya Alliance) coalition and faced off against Ruto and lawmaker Rigathi Gachagua in the elections. The country’s electoral commission said it believed that about 60% of the 22.1 million registered voters cast ballots.

The turnout was nearly 80% in the last election in 2017. UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the people of Kenya for the peaceful voting during the general elections so far. The UN chief “notes the important work done by the Kenyan authorities and electoral management bodies, the active engagement of numerous national stakeholders and the unwavering commitment of the voters to duly exercise their constitutional right to vote”, said a statement issued by his spokesperson. It said Guterres trusts that all political stakeholders and the Kenyan people will continue to demonstrate the the same level of calm, patience and respect for the electoral process as they await the announcement of the results of the polls in accordance with the legal time frame, it added.

Preliminary results from Kenya’s presidential election showed a tight race between the two main candidates vying to replace President Uhuru Kenyatta, as the world observed the post-election atmosphere in the country. At the time of publication, the presidential frontrunners, Ruto and veteran opposition leader Odinga, were in a close race, results tabulated by the Kenyan media showed. The winning candidate must get 50% plus one vote. The law requires that the commission undertakes verification of the presidential election results and declares the president-elect within seven days. The winner of Kenya’s presidential election will have an in-tray full of economic and political challenges to solve when he assumes office.

The polls happened in the middle of an economic crisis, with the country struggling with inflation that was at a five-year high of 8.3% last month on the back of costly food and fuel, Radarr Africa reported. The price rises, partly fuelled by the war in Ukraine, have deepened economic problems triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, including stagnant wages and growing youth unemployment. Odinga and Ruto have each promised a solution to the cost-of-living problem. Meanwhile, many Kenyans who queued in lines across Kenya this week are battling to make ends meet as rising fuel prices and the rapidly rising food and electricity tariffs continue to choke the average Kenyan family, let alone the poor. Several factors were blamed for the disappointing turnout, including drought in the north, which has forced more than 4 million Kenyans to depend on food aid. Voter frustration with the government’s failure to tackle economic problems such as rising food and fuel prices also contributed to the low turnout. Citizens in Kenya must be praying that the announcement of a winner will not unleash violence as in years past.

Analysts say that this week’s election was an important test for stability in East Africa’s biggest economy, where two of the last three elections led to bloodshed and disputes over accusations of rigging. According to local and international media, the latest polls were largely peaceful, although police said they were hunting a legislator who shot dead a rival’s aide outside a polling station.

According to election officials, in the northern town of Eldas, where clashes prevented elections, polling stations opened peacefully on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the IEBC said nearly 24 hours after polls had closed, that the elections were largely violence-free, with one or two incidents reported. Kenya has had its fair share of economic challenges over the years but has managed to become one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies with developing infrastructure.

Kenya has made significant political and economic reforms that have contributed to sustained economic growth, social development, and political stability gains over the past decade, according to the World Bank.

Tackling growing regional instability, poverty, corruption, climate change and unemployment, and quelling political tensions will have to be a priority within the president-elect’s first 100 days.

Williams is a multimedia journalist with the African News Agency (ANA)