Count begins in Kenya’s presidential election
Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta facing challenger.
Polls closed across Kenya after millions voted peacefully Tuesday in a fiercely contested election pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta against challenger Raila Odinga in the East African country known for its stability but also its divided ethnic allegiances.
Long lines formed at many of Kenya’s 40,000 polling stations before dawn, but the Kenyan election commission tweeted in the evening that the balloting concluded “with minimal hitches.” Some sites remained open to process those people still waiting to cast their votes.
In preliminary results, Kenyatta was ahead with 55.4 percent while Odinga had 43.9 percent after votes from nearly one-quarter of 40,883 polling stations had been counted, according to the Kenyan election commission.
Authorities hope to avoid the post-election violence a decade ago when ethnic divisions fueled unrest that killed more than 1,000 people.
Reaction to the result could partly depend on the performance of Kenya’s electoral commission, which will collect and count the ballots in the coming days.
By law, election officials have up to a week to announce results, though many analysts believe the outcome of the presidential race will be declared far sooner, possibly within one or two days.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is the chief election observer for The Carter Center, described it as “an inspiring day in Kenya watching democracy in action.”
“Enthusiastic voters not fazed by long lines,” he tweeted.
More than 300 people, including ethnic Maasai draped in traditional red blankets, waited for hours in the dark before a polling station opened in the Rift Valley town of Il Bissil. Kenyan TV also showed lines of voters in the port city of Mombasa. In some locations, inmates in striped prison garb cast ballots under the watch of guards.
Because Kenya is an African leader, its election is a closely watched event across the continent and beyond. Its diversity, symbolized by the gulf between its so-called Silicon Savannah ambitions for a booming tech industry and the poverty and lack of services found in shantytowns or remote rural areas, as well as its complex ethnic patchwork, mirror the potential for advancement, and the obstacles to it, across the wider region.
“If the elections are not fair, if there was rigging, people will definitely go to the streets,” said Sophia Ajwang, a 29-year-old student in Kisumu city.
Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of Kenya’s first president after independence from British colonial rule, campaigned on a record of major infrastructure projects, many backed by China, and claimed strong economic growth. Odinga, 72, also the son of a leader of the independence struggle, has cast himself as a champion of the poor and a harsh critic of endemic corruption.
An electoral officer (center) checks votes in Kibera Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday. Kenyans went to the polls to vote in a general election after a tightly fought presidential race between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition leader Raila Odinga.