Vot­ing in Kenya peace­ful; com­mis­sion starts count­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Tom Odula and Jerome De­lay of The Associated Press.

NAIROBI, Kenya — Polls closed Tues­day evening across Kenya af­ter mil­lions of peo­ple voted peace­fully in an 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 more than 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 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 post­elec­tion vi­o­lence of a decade ago when eth­nic di­vi­sions fu­eled un­rest that killed more than 1,000 peo­ple. A 2013 vote was mostly peace­ful de­spite op­po­si­tion al­le­ga­tions of vote-tam­per­ing.

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. In ad­di­tion to the bit­terly con­tested pres­i­den­tial race, more than 1,800 elected po­si­tions were at stake, in­clud­ing gover­nors, leg­isla­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives and county of­fi­cials.

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 U.S. 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.

Kenya be­ing a lead­ing coun­try in Africa, its elec­tion is a closely watched event across the con­ti­nent and beyond. The wealth in the so-called Sil­i­con Savannah 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-yearold stu­dent in Kisumu city.

How­ever, Moses Otieno, a 33-year-old busi­ness­man, said Kenyans des­per­ately want to avoid an­other bout of elec­tion un­rest.

“We’ve learned a lot in the past, so we don’t want such rep­e­ti­tion in this elec­tion,” Otieno said. “That’s why we will ac­cept what­ever out­come it is.”

Three polling sta­tions in the Laikipia area were “af­fected by in­se­cu­rity,” but se­cu­rity forces re­stored order and polling re­sumed, the elec­tion com­mis­sion said. Farms and homes in Laikipia County have been un­der siege for more than a year from herders who say they are des­per­ate for graz­ing land for their an­i­mals; some farm­ers be­lieve the land in­va­sions are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

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.

How­ever, many vot­ers were ex­pected to vote along eth­nic lines. Keny­atta is widely seen as the can­di­date of the Kikuyu peo­ple, the coun­try’s largest eth­nic group. Odinga is associated with the Luo vot­ing bloc, which has never pro­duced a head of state. There are six other pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, though they lack the wide sup­port of the top two.

AP

Kenyans line up to vote Tues­day at a polling sta­tion in the coastal town of Mom­basa in the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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