Kenyans awaited the results of the country’s presidential election on Wednesday after a largely peaceful election, with televised preliminary results suggesting a tight race as low turnout indicated growing disenchantment with the political elite.

Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, have vowed to remain calm after Tuesday’s vote, but the memory of violence surrounding the last election remains fresh for many Kenyans.

With pressure mounting on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which must announce results by August 16, officials worked through the night to count votes under the watchful eyes of observers.

The complex process of verifying and counting votes is expected to take several days, and IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati urged Kenyans to be patient in an effort to avoid allegations of fraud that have dogged previous polls.

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.

But despite initial enthusiasm, turnout was markedly lower than in previous years, a sign that for at least some Kenyans, the patience of the political establishment was running out.

Anthony Kemboi, a 24-year-old graduate of Eldoret, in the Rift Valley stronghold of Ruta, told AFP voter disenchantment was to blame.

“People haven’t come out … compared to the past because there have been false promises over the years,” he said.

According to the latest IEBC figures, turnout was just over 65 percent, with voting still underway in Wajir County, where gunfire forced officials to postpone voting until Wednesday.

This compares with a final turnout of 78 percent in the disputed August 2017 election.

In the lakeside city of Kisumu – Odinga’s stronghold – retired civil servant Koga Edward said young Kenyans simply did not show up.

“Most of our youth participate well only in political actions, but do not participate in the voting process itself,” the 65-year-old told AFP.

– “I don’t care anymore” –

“Personally, I didn’t even vote because I don’t care anymore,” said Caroline Mwangi, a 31-year-old waitress in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Politicians “tell the same old stories and they do nothing for us,” she told AFP.

Others said they just wanted the election cycle over so they could focus on putting food on the table in a country wracked by runaway inflation and an unemployment crisis.

“The election was held yesterday, I don’t want to waste any more time on it,” 28-year-old IT specialist Celestine Muoki told AFP.

“Let’s move on.”

Gabrielle Lynch, a professor of comparative political science at the University of Warwick in England, said the decline in turnout was a consequence of politicians’ tendency to “promise a lot and then not deliver”.

“Many Kenyans … are unfortunately becoming increasingly skeptical of the political class,” she told AFP.

Few Kenyans expect Ruta or Odinga to accept the result unchallenged in a country where the results of a presidential election have not gone uncontested since 2002.

One-time heir apparent, Ruto, 55, found himself sidelined after President Uhuru Kenyatta, who cannot run for re-election, joined hands with his former nemesis Odinga, 77, in a move that stunned the country.

Since then, Ruto has declared himself a defender of the “shullers” trying to survive in a country ruled by the “dynasties” of the Kenyatta and Odinga families that have dominated Kenyan politics since independence from Britain in 1963.

– “Life is very difficult” –

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.

Some observers have suggested that economics may even surpass tribalism as a key motivator for Kenya’s 22 million registered voters.

With two other candidates also in the race, Kenya could hold a runoff for the first time in its history if neither Ruta nor Odinga gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

Kenya’s international partners are watching the election closely as a test of its stability in the conflict-ridden region.

Security has been beefed up across the country to prevent a repeat of the post-election violence that gripped Kenya after the 2007 and 2017 elections, and schools have been ordered to close until Monday.

In the deserted center of Nairobi, Japheth Kigongi, a 25-year-old shoeshine boy, told AFP he could not even afford to travel to his home constituency to vote.

“Life has become very difficult,” he said.

“Whoever is elected, I will support him as long as there is peace.”

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