Kenyan election officials began counting votes on Tuesday, as results trickled in from a hard-fought contest between the country’s foremost political dynasties and election authorities called for calm.
Shrouded in fears of violence, the vote pits President Uhuru Kenyatta, the 55-year-old businessman son of Kenya’s founding president, against Raila Odinga, a 72-year-old former political prisoner and son of Kenya’s first vice-president.
The rivals are facing each other for the second time, with opinion polls putting them neck-and-neck after two months of campaigning marked by fiery rhetoric but public speeches largely free of the ethnic hate that has sullied previous contests.
“During this critical phase, we urge all Kenyans to exercise restraint as we await official results from the polling stations and indeed as they start trickling in,” the electoral commission said in a statement.
Odinga comes from the Luo people in western Kenya, an area that has long felt neglected by the government and resentful of their perceived exclusion from political power. Kenyatta is Kikuyu, an ethnic group that has supplied three of Kenya’s four presidents since independence from Britain in 1963.
The razor-thin polling has increased the chances of glitches – innocent or otherwise – despite a high-tech electronic voting system. That could be grounds for the loser to allege fraud, as Odinga did in 2007 and in 2013. Given his age, this is probably Odinga’s last crack at the top job.
A decade ago, vote tallying was abruptly stopped and the incumbent president declared the winner, triggering an outcry from Odinga’s camp followed by outbreaks of ethnic violence in which 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. (Reuters)