William Ruto edges ahead in Kenya’s presidential race

Partial official results show the deputy president slightly ahead in the vote for Kenya’s presidency.

Posters of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto and presidential candidate for the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Kenya Kwanza political coalition [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Deputy President William Ruto edged ahead of his main rival Raila Odinga in Kenya’s presidential election as the country remained on tenterhooks for the final election outcome.

Ruto scored 51.25 percent of the vote on Sunday, reversing earlier gains for Odinga, who had 48.09 percent, according to figures from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which tallied results from nearly 50 percent of constituencies.

The election, which was held on Tuesday, is being closely watched as a test of stability in Kenya, which is one of East Africa’s wealthiest nations and its most vibrant democracy.

Past votes in the country have been marred by rigging and deadly violence.

The electoral commission has until Tuesday to declare a winner. The winning candidate must receive 50 percent of the national vote plus one, and at least 25 percent of the vote from 24 of 47 counties.

With the race so close, observers say an appeal to the Supreme Court by the losing candidate is almost certain, meaning it could be many weeks before a new president takes office.

In western Kenya, residents said they were tired of waiting for results, but stressed they were also sapped from the turbulence of the past.

“We aren’t ready for any violence here,” said Ezekiel Kibet, 40, who said he would accept the results if the process is transparent. “We are thinking of how our kids will go back to school.”

“Let whoever will win rule us,” added Daniel Arap Chepkwony, 63. “Many people think that we here will come out with our weapons, but we will not.”

Scene of a crime’

Odinga and Ruto are in a tight race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has reached his two-term limit. Kenyatta has endorsed Odinga after falling out with Ruto following the last election.

Riot police responded to scuffles late Saturday at the national tallying centre amid tensions over the close results. An agent for Odinga announced from the lectern the tallying centre was the “scene of a crime” before calm was restored.

The agent, Saitabao Ole Kanchory, offered no evidence in the latest example of the unverified claims that both top campaigns have made as Kenya waits for official results.

Police remained at the centre on Sunday.

“We must all avoid raising tensions that could easily trigger violence,” local human rights groups and professional associations said in a joint statement, urging restraint from candidates and their supporters.

Official vote tallying has been proceeding slowly, heightening public anxiety.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati blamed party agents, who are allowed to scrutinise result forms before they are added to the final tally.

“Agents in this exercise cannot proceed … as if we are doing a forensic audit,” he told a news briefing on Friday. “We are not moving as fast as we should. This exercise needs to be concluded as soon as possible.”

Representatives from Odinga and Ruto’s coalitions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Both frontrunners have pledged to ensure calm after the outcome is known, with Kenyans still haunted by the deadly violence that followed the 2017 and 2007 polls.

More than 1,200 people were killed after the disputed 2007 elections and more than 100 were killed after the 2017 elections.

In a bid to be transparent, the election commission – which faced stinging criticism over its management of the annulled August 2017 polls – has been uploading documents to its website showing results from each polling station.

Turnout dipped sharply in this election, to 65 percent, as some Kenyans expressed weariness with seeing long-familiar political leaders on the ballot and frustration with economic issues including widespread corruption and rising prices.

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