Mar. 5 (GIN) – Kenyans by the millions turned out to vote Monday in a much-anticipated poll that was the first under a new constitution. Pollsters predicted a win for Uhuru Kenyatta, son of founding President Jomo Kenyatta, who had gained an edge over his closest rival, Raila Odinga, in early returns.
The high number of spoiled ballots – over 300,000 – and the failure of biometric voter registration machines in several areas, may create a prickly predicament for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission which has announced it will count all votes cast, even spoiled ones. This could lead to a reduction of Mr. Kenyatta’s vote totals and might force a run-off if neither candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.
Kenyans cast ballots for a president, parliamentarians, governors, senators, council members and special women’s representatives.
Compared to the chaos of the 2007 election, marred by vote-rigging and bloodshed, Monday’s voting was generally peaceful, even in the eyes of the foreign press. CNN, however, produced a controversial piece titled “Kenyans Armed and Ready to Vote” of four militia men training in Kenya’s Rift Valley. “Guns fashioned from iron piping,” intoned the reporter. “Homemade swords and bullets bought on the black market.” The story was scorned by Kenyans on social media. A Twitter feed called #SomeoneTellCNN, lampooned the entire report.
Kenya’s volatility is often linked to its multiple ethnic affiliations. Uhuru, for example, is Kikuyu and his running mate, William Ruto, is a Kalenjin. With support from the Meru and Embu groups they represent almost one quarter of the population. Kisumu, in western Kenya, is Odinga’s ethnic stronghold.
Partial results show that Kenyans voted largely along ethnic lines. Some areas voted 95 percent for the candidate from their ethnic group, while other areas, with people in very similar circumstances, voted 95 percent for a candidate of another group.
Both Uhuru and Ruto must appear before the International Criminal Court in the next few months. They are both indicted for crimes against humanity in connection with the election violence of 2007-8.
Last month, the Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, warned Kenyans against electing Uhuru, sayng that ‘choices have consequences’. In fact Kenyatta and Ruto appear to have gained sympathy from voters wanting to send a defiant message to “western imperialists” interfering in Kenyan affairs.
Meanwhile, President Kibaki over the weekend called on Kenyans to vote peacefully and urged the losers to accept defeat.
“Cast your vote and keep the peace,” he said in an address to the nation. “To those who will not win, your country still needs you. There are many other roles you can play in our development endeavors.”