Tense Kenya presidential vote count enters final stretch
NAIROBI (AFP) – Presidential frontrunner Uhuru Kenyatta held the lead as the vote count in Kenya’s election entered the final stretch on Friday and he battled to avoid a second round in a closely-fought race mired in allegations of fraud.
With less than a fifth of constituencies left to report results, Kenyatta was hovering just below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff and maintained a clear lead over his arch-rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chief Ahmed Issack Hassan said officials were working “around the clock” to tally the final results “as soon as possible”.
However, based on the speed of reporting of results in past 24 hours, final tallies might not be ready until Saturday.
Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister and one of Africa’s richest men, faces a crimes against humanity trial in July at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over deadly violence that erupted after the contested 2007 elections.
Running mate William Ruto, also indicted by the ICC for orchestrating murder, forcible transfer and persecution, had his trial delayed until May 28 late on Friday.
The tallying process for Monday’s election has been marred by allegations from both sides, including charges by Odinga’s party that results had been “doctored”.
Kenyatta’s party has also raised concerns over the slow-moving vote count, complaining about the inclusion of spoiled ballots in the overall total, which could potentially tip the balance in favour of a second round.
The rigging claims, dismissed by Kenya’s electoral commission, have added to tensions in a nation still scarred by the weeks of deadly violence that followed contested polls five years ago.
Over 1,100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes in the 2007-8 ethnic violence that shattered Kenya’s image as a beacon of regional stability.
As of 1745 GMT, Kenyatta had won 5.4 million votes against Odinga’s 4.7 million, with results from 258 of the 291 constituencies already received and verified by the elections body.
To win outright and avoid a second round, a candidate must win more than half of all votes cast, according to the constitution, as well as at least 25 percent of votes in more than half of all 47 counties.
– Appeal to keep the peace –
Odinga and Kenyatta — the son of independent Kenya’s founding president — have both publicly vowed there will be no repeat of the 2007-2008 bloodshed that broke out over the counting process.
Kenya has been largely calm in recent days apart from isolated incidents of violence.
Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, trailing in third place with some three percent, conceded defeat Friday saying he had “misgivings” about the electoral process, but also appealing to Kenyatta and Odinga to “keep the peace whatever the outcome of the elections”.
Odinga ran for president in the last elections in 2007 and has always insisted he was robbed of victory, which went to his main rival Mwai Kibaki, who was backed by Kenyatta.
The vote tallying process has repeatedly come under fire after an expensive electronic system to register and recognise voters — and later to send results — suffered widespread failure.
After the count had begun, election officials were forced to resort to reading out results hand-delivered by returning officers, with helicopters picking officials from remote regions.
Initial results sent electronically reported hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots, but later dropped dramatically to tens of thousands after the electronic system was abandoned.
IEBC officials said the drop was due to an error in the electronic system that had multiplied by eight the number of rejected votes.
High numbers of spoiled ballots greatly added to the number needed for a candidate to break the 50-percent threshold for a first round win, and increasing the prospect of a runoff.
Odinga’s running mate Kalonzo Musyoka on Thursday called for a halt to manual vote counting alleging evidence or rigging but gave few details of the claims.
But he stressed that the accusations were “not a call to mass action” and that the party was “committed to the principle of rule of law”.
However, Hassan said the electoral commission had seen no evidence of rigging and that was “no room to doctor results whatsoever”.
A petition to halt the counting process filed at the high court on Friday by a civil society organisation was dismissed as the court said it did not have the jurisdiction.