NAIROBI — Kenyans held their breath on Tuesday as partial election results trickled in, confirming at least two things: that the presidential race will be a close call between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga and that voters defied technical bungles on Monday to turn out in huge numbers.
Report by Business Day Live
By Tuesday evening, about 45% of a potentially record turnout had been counted.
Mr Kenyatta was still in the numerical lead with 2.7-million votes to Mr Odinga’s 2.1-million, but the margin is almost irrelevant until both men’s ethnic strongholds are fully counted.
Mr Odinga’s camp said counting in their strongholds had not been completed and a debate over the fate of of rejected votes could help shift the balance.
With memories of ethnic slaughter after the last polls in 2007 still fresh in voters’ minds, the chairman of the elections commission told candidates and their supporters to keep their heads.
“Nobody should celebrate, nobody should complain,” Ahmed Issack Hassan told a news conference on Tuesday, urging patience and apologising for failings by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
“We therefore continue to appeal for patience from the public,” Mr Hassan said.
The commission says provisional results may not be tallied until today, meaning an official declaration would not come until then, or even later.
Nairobi was calm, if semideserted, with many shops and businesses having been closed for a second day.
Only Monday had been declared a public holiday to allow as many of Kenya’s 14-million registered voters to cast their votes.
Most people were recovering on Tuesday from queueing marathons caused by overambitious voting technology and the holding of six different elections simultaneously, from the presidency to county assemblies.
Foreign and local observers praised the fortitude of voters on Monday and said high numbers of spoilt ballots — about 325,000 — emphasised the logistical problems with the voting.
But the killing of about 1,300 people after the 2007 elections remains a source of apprehension and most Kenyans are praying there will be no repeat.
“I don’t think guys are ready to go back to that,” Charles Indiazi, a workshop manager for a leading car firm, said on Monday night at Langata NCC polling station.
Despite a glorious sunset in a setting straight out of the film Out of Africa, Mr Indiazi was understandably vexed after queueing for more than six hours.
Mr Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, have both been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court because of their alleged role in the postelectoral violence of 2007-08.
The possibility that they will have to shuttle between cabinet meetings in Nairobi and court in The Hague if they win is the subject of serious debate.
Festus Mogae, the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, said inadequate voter education and problems with the use of biometric voter registration in polling stations had led to the delays on Monday. Fortunately, the elections commission had the old manual systems as backup, he said, unlike in Ghana late last year where the same technology was used.
“Although we know that people in Kenya vote along ethnic lines and for personalities rather than issues, I think it went all right,” the former Botswana president said on Tuesday.
Despite the high level of nervous tension that was palpable in Nairobi, foreign currency traders were selling the dollar at 85 Kenyan shillings on Tuesday, compared with 86.2 just before the election, indicating that Kenyans and foreigners are slightly less worried about mayhem erupting when final results are announced.
Separatists in areas on the Indian Ocean are among the new security threats the country faces. Nine police officers were among 15 people killed in two attacks by gangs in the Mombasa region hours before the vote on Monday. But there was scant direct relationship with the national voting.
There was zero hope for the six other contenders to become Kenya’s fourth president in the 50th year of its independence.
It was also too early to tell if a run-off between the top two will be necessary. An outright winner needs 50% plus one vote, and 25% of the vote in at least 24 of 47 new counties.
Mr Odinga’s campaign team has raised the spectre of rigging as their man slipped behind. Releasing results from Kenyatta strongholds ahead of Mr Odinga’s may be the explanation.