Today from Hiiraan Online:
A Fiercely Fought Election in Kenya, an African Powerhouse
By Declan Walsh
Tuesday August 9, 2022
NAIROBI, Kenya (NY Times) — A wave of relief tinged with jubilation washed across Kenya on Tuesday as its hotly contested presidential election passed largely peacefully after months of bitter jostling and mud slinging. Supporters feted one of the front-runners, Raila Odinga, at his Nairobi stronghold, while his determined rival, William Ruto, praised the majesty of democracy after casting his vote before dawn.
But that’s likely just the start of the battle.
As the polls closed, Kenya’s election shifted into a new and unpredictable phase that, if previous elections are a guide, could be rocky.
Past elections gave way to periods of tense uncertainty involving accusations of vote-rigging, protracted courtroom dramas, bouts of street violence and even a murder mystery. It can be weeks, even months, before a new president is sworn in.
“People just don’t trust the system,” Charles Owuiti, a factory manager, said as he waited to cast his ballot in Nairobi, the line snaking through a crowded schoolyard.
But so far, the ethnic divisions that framed previous votes have been dialed down. In the Rift Valley, the scene of previous clashes, fewer people than in the past fled their homes fearing they might be attacked.
Instead, Kenyans streamed into polling stations across the country, some in the predawn darkness, to choose their president, as well as parliamentarians and local leaders. Among the four candidates for president, most voters were likely to choose between Mr. Odinga, a 77-year-old opposition leader running for the fifth time, and Mr. Ruto, the outgoing vice president and self-declared champion of Kenya’s “hustler nation” — its frustrated youth.
For others, that wasn’t a choice worth making. The electoral commission estimated voter turnout at 60 percent — a huge drop from the 80 percent turnout of the 2017 election, and a sign that many Kenyans, stung by economic hardship or jaded by endemic corruption, preferred to stay home.
“Either way, there’s no hope,” said Zena Atitala, an unemployed tech worker, outside a voting station in Kibera, said to be Africa’s largest slum, on the outskirts of Nairobi. “Of the two candidates, we are choosing the better thief.”
In the coming days, the critical question is not only who won the race, but whether the loser will accept defeat.
It can get murky.
Days before the last vote, in 2017, a senior electoral official, Chris Msando, was found dead, his tortured body strewn in a remote forest outside Nairobi. His girlfriend, Carol Ngumbu, lay beside him. A post-mortem found they had been strangled.
The death of Mr. Msando, who was in charge of the results transmission system, immediately aroused suspicion of a link to vote rigging. Weeks later when Mr. Odinga, who lost the vote, challenged the result in court, he claimed the electoral commission’s server had been hacked by people using Mr. Msando’s credentials.
The election was eventually rerun, and won by Uhuru Kenyatta, the outgoing president. The killings of Mr. Msando and his partner were never solved.
But the nadir of Kenyan elections was in 2007, when a dispute over the results degenerated into a storm of electoral violence that killed over 1,200 people and, many feared, could have tipped the country into a civil war.
After that crisis, Kenyans in 2010 adopted a new constitution that devolved some powers to the local level and helped stabilize a democratic system that, for all its flaws, is today considered among the strongest in the region.
In Tuesday’s election, unofficial results flowed in at night. The election commission posted tallies from polling stations to its website as they became available, allowing newspapers, political parties and other groups to compile unofficial results.
The winning candidate needs over 50 percent of the vote, as well as one quarter of vote in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. Failure to meet that bar means a runoff within 30 days.
But given how close the race has been, the most likely scenario is a legal challenge, say analysts. Any citizen or group can challenge the initial result in court within seven days. Many Kenyans hope it doesn’t go any further than that.
Unofficial results flowed in on Tuesday night. The election commission posted tallies from polling stations to its website as they became available, allowing newspapers, political parties and other groups to compile unofficial results.
The winning candidate needs over 50 percent of the vote, as well as one quarter of the vote in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. Failure to meet that bar means a runoff within 30 days.
But given how close the race has been, the most likely scenario is a legal challenge, analysts say. Any citizen or group can challenge the initial result in court within seven days. Many Kenyans hope it doesn’t go any further than that.
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