Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga emerged as the frontrunner in Kenya’s tight presidential race on Thursday, according to preliminary reports published by local media.
The Daily Nation newspaper, owned by the privately-owned Nation Media Group, was leading Odinga with a majority of 50.05% of the vote, with Ruto on 49.27% as of 3.15pm GMT.
Meanwhile, private Citizen TV also named Odinga as the nation’s favorite with 49.48% compared to Ruto’s 49.12%.
The discrepancy in the vote count is because each media house has access to public portal results submitted digitally by polling stations at different times, said the chairman of the country’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Wafula Chebukati.
“We hope that at the end of the count they will be consistent and similar because the results are from the same source,” he told a briefing on Thursday, assuring the public “not to panic.”
The IEBC has yet to announce any official results, but confirmed they had received 99.84% at 10.30 GMT on Thursday.
Under Kenya’s vote counting process, paper votes from each constituency are officially counted on the spot and then sent to the national tallying center for tallying and verification.
To win, candidates must win more than half of the ballots cast and at least 25% of the vote in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. The absence of a final result will lead to a new election within 30 days.
New boss in town
Deputy President Ruto took the lead when local media first counted votes from his strongholds, said Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at UK-based risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft.
“But the number of votes per constituency means that Raila Odinga will become president.”
As the anointed successor to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, Odinga of the coalition party Azimio La Umoha (Decoration of Unity) is seen as the succession candidate and the safest bet for investors.
The election marks his fifth attempt at the presidency, with voters calling for continued large-scale spending on infrastructure projects launched by his rival-turned-patron.
His social platform also includes increased social spending through monthly grants of $50 (6,000 cash) to two million poor families, universal health care and free education from early childhood to tertiary level.
Odinga is also promising to “restructure and repurpose” Kenya’s $68.8 billion debt to creditors to make it sustainable and eliminate the need for a future bailout, a promise that is at odds with Ruto’s plans to tackle the debt through tax mobilisation.
As the son of Kenya’s first vice president, Jaramoga Oginga Odinga, who served under Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, Jomo, he is considered the scion of an entrenched political dynasty.
The former political prisoner qualified as a mechanical engineer in the former East Germany and briefly lectured at the University of Nairobi before entering politics. He was jailed for six years for his role in a failed coup in 1982 and served periodic prison terms for campaigning for greater political freedoms.
The 77-year-old favorite has business interests ranging from fuel imports to gas cylinder manufacturing, and his success has sparked accusations of corruption.
Ruta, a self-proclaimed defender of the poor, is seeking to empower Kenya’s “rogue nation” of informal workers by investing in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
“He portrayed Odinga as an elitist on the economy and drew up plans to fund job training programs as an essential aid to the everyday Kenyan,” says Hunter.
Ruto also promised to set up a $420 million “swindler fund” annually to provide loans at an affordable rate to 10 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
With the east African economic powerhouse reeling from a two-year drought and soaring food prices, the tensions could spark electoral violence in areas populated by ethnic groups associated with the losing candidate when results are announced.
“The police have not been significantly reformed since they killed dozens of protesters in 2017,” Hunter says.
Kenya’s debt has risen to $68.8 billion in 2021 from just $37.7 billion, or 34% of GDP, when current President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected in 2017.
Of that, China accounts for 63% of bilateral debt – about $7 billion – mostly for large-scale infrastructure projects such as the $668 million Nairobi freeway, according to the World Bank.