Kenyans eagerly awaited the results of the country’s presidential election on Wednesday after a largely peaceful vote, with low turnout in some areas indicating growing disenchantment with the political elite.
Although presidential leaders William Ruto and Raila Odinga have vowed to remain calm after Tuesday’s vote, the memory of the violence associated with the last election remains fresh for many Kenyans who have called on political parties to accept the results.
With pressure mounting on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which is due to announce results by August 16, officials worked through the night to count votes and allay fears of fraud.
“We urge Kenyans to be patient as we carry out this serious exercise and we also aim to complete this exercise as soon as possible,” IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati told an overnight briefing.
Kenyans, some of whom lined up before dawn to cast their ballots, cast their ballots in six elections on Tuesday, electing a new president as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, women representatives and about 1,500 county officials.
However, despite early signs of enthusiasm, turnout in some areas has been weak, suggesting that, for at least some Kenyans, patience is running out after years of broken promises.
Even those who turned out to vote early said they were tired of electing political leaders who did little to improve their lives.
“We’ve been holding elections all along, getting promises, but we don’t see any change,” said George Otieno Henry, a 56-year-old artisan.
“I hope it will be better this time,” he told AFP in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest slums.
By 4 p.m., 10 hours after voting began, turnout was just over 56% of the 22 million registered voters, according to the IEBC.
Comparable figures for the August 2017 election were not immediately available, but overall turnout was 78% for that vote.
Cost of living crisis
Vice President Ruto and Odinga, a veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, have pledged to address the cost-of-living crisis and make life easier for ordinary Kenyans.
But many are bracing for the pair to dispute the results, which mirror previous polls in the East African country, where the outcome of a presidential election has not gone uncontested since 2002.
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One-time heir apparent Ruto, 55, was sidelined after two-term president Uhuru Kenyatta – who cannot run for a third term – joined hands with his former nemesis Odinga, 77, in a move that stunned the country.
Since then, the wealthy businessman has cast himself as a defender of “shillers” trying to make a living in a country ruled by “dynasties” – the Kenyatta and Odinga families that have dominated Kenyan politics since independence from Britain in 1963.
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With a third of Kenya’s population living in poverty, economic pressures weighed on voters even before the war in Ukraine, leading to a sharp rise in the price of basic necessities.
Ahead of the election, some observers suggested the economy could overtake tribalism as the key driver of voter behavior, while others said the failure of politicians to deal with the crisis could keep people from voting.
“Many Kenyans… cited a lack of faith in politicians to improve their economic conditions as the main reason for not participating in the August elections,” Oxford Economics said in a note last week.
“calm and peaceful”
Analysts suggested that Odinga, a former political prisoner and former prime minister making his fifth shot at the presidency, could edge out his younger rival.
If no one gets more than 50%, Kenya will hold a runoff for the first time in its history.
Kenya’s international partners are closely following the elections in the country, which is considered a beacon of regional stability.
Local elections were suspended in several districts on Tuesday, prompting a protest in one case, but police said the election process largely “remained calm and peaceful, with no major incidents.”
Security measures have been stepped up to prevent a repeat of the post-election violence that has hit Kenya in the past.
The 2007 poll was marred by politically motivated ethnic clashes that left more than 1,100 dead, while Odinga contested the 2017 election, facing a violent police response that left dozens dead.