NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The leading candidate in Kenya's presidential election, Uhuru Kenyatta, saw his percentage of the vote yo-yo just below the 50 percent mark early Saturday, a race too tight to call with only a few votes outstanding.
The election commission said just after midnight that it would announce final results at 11 a.m. Kenya time, an announcement that ended any concerns of overnight violence by supporters of a losing candidate.
A win by Kenyatta could greatly affect Kenya's relations with the West because the candidate faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in directing some of Kenya's 2007 postelection violence. The U.S. and other nations may scale back ties to the East African nation if he becomes president.
The last tally posted early Saturday showed Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister, with 49.71 percent of the vote with 98 percent of locations — 285 of 291 — tabulated. Kenyatta had bounced as high as 51 percent Friday night as the election commission updated returns.
Electoral expert Tom Wolf, a research analyst with the polling firm Ipsos Synovate, told The Associated Press that the late votes coming in from Kenya's Rift Valley were a "very abundant vote basket" for Kenyatta. His running mate, William Ruto, who faces similar ICC charges, is from the Rift.
"On a scale of zero to 10, it seems to be about a seven or eight that he'll probably just get over" the 50 percent mark, said Wolf. "I would be a little bit more surprised if he didn't get over 50 than if he did, but neither one on the face of it would be a complete surprise."
The other leading candidate is Prime Minister Raila Odinga. His campaign manager, Eliud Owalo, told AP late Friday that the prime minister's team believes there will be a run-off. If Odinga loses, his camp will likely launch a legal challenge. Odinga had 43.5 percent of the vote in Friday's last tally.
Odinga's camp abruptly called a news conference late Friday and just as abruptly rescheduled it for after the announcement of final results.
Despite the Odinga optimism, a Western election observer said the international community was forming a consensus around the belief Kenyatta was likely to win outright. The observer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal diplomatic talks.
There was also a belief that Odinga was not likely to protest the vote in a manner that would increase the chances of violence, the observer said, but rather honor his pledge to respect the result and petition the courts with any grievances.
The Kenyan capital has been sleepy since Monday's vote for president, the country's first election since its 2007 vote sparked tribe-on-tribe violence that killed more than 1,000 people. But security forces in riot gear took to the streets Friday in regions of the city that could turn tumultuous after results are announced.
The prime minister's supporters took to the streets after Odinga in 2007 said he had been cheated. In Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum and a bastion of Odinga support, many believe this year's results have been rigged as well.
"If you look at the way the tallying is being done there is rigging," said Isiah Omondi, 27. "If Uhuru wins and wins fairly, we don't have a problem with him. He can be our president. But not like this."
The U.S. has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father, wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would have only essential contact with the Kenyan government if Kenyatta is president.
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is larger than any American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya's strong role in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. also has military forces stationed here near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the lynchpin of East Africa's economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.
Kenyatta's International Criminal Court trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague, Netherlands, for much of his five-year term. Another option is, as president, to decide not to attend the trial. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya's standing with the West.
Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague, even if he wins the presidency. The ICC on Friday delayed the trial of Ruto until late May.
A pre-election voter survey from Ipsos showed Odinga getting 44.4 percent and Kenyatta getting 44.8 percent. That left 8 percent for the other six candidates and 2 percent for the undecided. Wolf said Kenyatta clearly won over some of that 10 percent to rise to the 50 percent mark.
In order to win outright, Kenyatta must not only get more than 50 percent of the vote but also must garner at least 25 percent of the vote in 24 out of Kenya's 47 provinces. Because of the way the election commission announced results, that was difficult to immediately determine.
Whether or not Kenyatta finishes with over half of the votes, most observers expected legal challenges to be launched after myriad failures in the systems Kenya's electoral commission set up.
For instance, an electronic voter ID system intended to prevent fraud failed across the country for lack of electricity in some cases and overheating computers in others. Vote officials instead used manual voter rolls.
After the polls closed, results were to be sent electronically to Nairobi, where officials would quickly tabulate a preliminary vote count in order to maximize transparency after rigging accusations following the 2007 vote. But that system failed, too. Election officials have indicated that computer servers overloaded but have yet to fully explain the problem.
On Tuesday, as the early count system was still being used, election results showed more than 330,000 rejected ballots, an unusually high number. But after the count resumed with the arrival in Nairobi of manual tallies, the number of rejected ballots were greatly reduced, and the election commission on Thursday gave the head-scratching explanation that the computer was mistakenly multiplying the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight.
Odinga's camp on Thursday said some votes had been doctored and called for a halt to the tallying process, saying it "lacked integrity." A day earlier, Kenyatta's camp accused the British high commissioner of meddling in the election and asked aloud why there were an unusually high number of British troops in the country.
The election commission has denied any of the results have been altered.
There were fears going into the election that the violence that rocked Kenya five years ago would return. A separatist group on the coast launched attacks on Monday that ended in the deaths of 19 people, but the vote and its aftermath has otherwise been largely peaceful.
But it's the announcement of results that could stir protests, especially if the supporters of either camp feel robbed.
Associated Press reporters Rodney Muhumuza and Tom Odula contributed to this report.