“Kenya saw a photo finish in its race for president Friday as the last ballots were counted. Uhuru Kenyatta (right), the leading candidate, saw his percentage edge above 50 percent,” The Associated Press reports:
The latest vote tally by the election commission showed Kenyatta with 50.5 percent of the vote. An electoral expert, Tom Wolf, said outstanding votes coming from Kenya’s Rift Valley are an “abundant vote basket” for Kenyatta.
Kenyan authorities were determined to finish the count today as Kenyatta edged ahead of his rival Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Reuters reports:
Technical problems slowed down the count, which has been questioned by both sides but considered broadly credible so far by international observers. Kenyans have had to wait four days already and the result is likely to go down to the wire……The poll is seen as a critical test for Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, after its reputation as a stable democracy was damaged by the bloodshed that followed the 2007 election.
“This time we think it will not be the same because leaders have said they will accept the result or go to court,” said civil society activist Job Ochieng. “Obviously there is still some fear though,” he said. “We are hopeful but also nervous.”
But other experts suggested that a more traumatic scenario seemed likely.
“This looks exactly like a rerun of 2007,” said Maina Kiai (left), formerly head of the National Human Rights Commission that investigated much of the violence after the 2007 election.
“Kenyans queue up to vote peacefully, then there’s this long wait for the results and now that’s opening up the perception of rigging. The only thing that’s keeping people off the streets is that this time they trust the courts as the place to work out electoral disputes, which was not the case last time.”
The high turnout indicates that Kenyans retain a strong commitment to democratic participation, said analysts.
But tensions have risen since the party of Prime Minister Odinga claimed that preliminary results had been ‘doctored’ and called for counting to be stopped, the New York Times reports:
The election commission did not comment immediately, and Mr. Odinga’s campaign officials said they were considering seeking a court injunction to immediately halt the tallying process. ……Millions of Kenyans flocked to the polls on Monday in an anxiously awaited presidential election and a winner was supposed have been announced by now, but a breakdown in computer equipment has spawned long delays and mushrooming anxieties.
“We have evidence that the results we are receiving have been doctored,” said Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr. Odinga’s running mate. “The national tallying process lacks integrity and has to be stopped.”
But European Union and other international election observers declared the polls largely free and fair.
Kenyatta’s indictment by the International Criminal Court rebounded in his favor, says a prominent Kenyan human rights defender.
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“The I.C.C. was definitely a factor in this election, but not necessarily the factor you would expect,” said Kiai, now the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association
“It got people out. People were saying, ‘They’re our boys, they’re our sons, we need to protect them.’ ”
A Kenyatta victory will present the US and other Western democracies with a serious dilemma, the New York Times reports:
Does the United States put a premium on its commitment to justice and ending impunity — as it has emphasized across the continent — and distance itself from Mr. Kenyatta should he clinch this election?
Or would that put at risk all the other strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al Qaeda?
“There is really very little leverage that the U.S. and other countries can exercise,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center in Washington.
Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios
“The tightness of the race bodes ill; it is unlikely that either side will be able to score a quick victory, and it will not take much vote rigging to influence the election’s outcome,” writes analyst Bronwyn Bruton, a former Africa program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The losing party is virtually certain, therefore, to contest the results. Some violence, in other words, seems all but assured. The question is how long it will last, whether it will spread nationwide, and how many people will be displaced, injured, or killed,” she writes for Foreign Affairs:
If Kenya’s elections spark only limited violence, complaints about the outcome are handled in an orderly manner in the courts, and if the international community respects the outcome of the poll, Kenyans could regain some of their confidence in the democratic process and in their own capacity to resolve difficult political issues peacefully.
The United States should signal its wholehearted commitment to the integrity of the Kenyan electoral process and the rule of law by supporting a swift judicial review of any allegations of irregularity. Comfortingly, in a recent Gallup poll, a stunning 92 percent of Kenyans said that they were confident that their country’s electoral board would be able to manage the elections. Approval ratings for Kenya’s courts were almost as high.
A violent breakdown of political order in Kenya “would have major economic consequences in the region and jeopardize other US objectives,” according to Joel Barkan, a Kenya expert, author of a recent report for the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Two major US foreign policy goals in the region – preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan – could be compromised,” wrote Barkan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.
“To be honest, there are so many different scenarios, nobody really knows what we’re going to do,” one American official said.