Kenyans anxious for news on next president, two days after tight vote

  • Opposition Leader Odinga before Deputy Pres. Ruto
  • The Election Commission has not yet announced when the winner will be announced
  • Kenyans eager for updates; Media tally draw
  • Claims of violence, rigging in previous elections

NAIROBI/ELDORET, Kenya, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Kenyans flocked to radio and television on Thursday for news of who will be their next president, two days after election polls closed.

The East African country’s Electoral Commission (IEBC) has not released a running tally of results or said when it plans to announce a winner, but unofficial and sometimes conflicting media numbers show a nail-biting race.

Veteran opposition leader and former political prisoner Raila Odinga, 77, is making his fifth shot at the presidency. He stands with his neck down alongside 55-year-old Deputy President William Ruto.

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Kenyan media have been compiling results from more than 46,000 polling stations on forms uploaded by the commission to its website, a mammoth task as their numbers differ and lag far behind the available raw data.

Concerned that these discrepancies could lead to claims of rigging, which has led to deadly violence after recent ballots, many are urging their fellow citizens to wait patiently for the official results – after a largely peaceful election.

Outside a butcher’s shop in the western city of Eldoret, dozens of men shouldered each other as they jostled to read the latest headlines and debate the relative merits of Ruto and Odinga.

But all of them expressed confidence in the commission’s ability to deliver a true verdict.

“This (radio) station is saying this; this station is saying that – we don’t engage with those numbers,” said 22-year-old driver Ian Kipchirchirchir.

“Only the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) has the truth.. We trust the IEBC.”

Scrutinizing newspaper headlines across the two streets, Ongao Okello added: “There is a lot of impatience… Given the experience we have had in Kenya, we have to be patient and just wait.”

More than 1,200 people were killed in the widespread violence that followed the 2007 elections, and more than 100 people died after the 2017 elections.

That history has added to the scrutiny of the Election Commission, which, wary of repeating tallying mistakes, saw the Supreme Court nullify the 2017 result and order a rerun.

Low turnout

The 2022 result is being watched carefully abroad as well.

Kenya is the wealthiest economy in the region, a stable nation in a volatile region, and a close Western ally hosting the regional headquarters for Alphabet. (GOOGL.O)Visa (VN) and other international groups.

Despite some last-minute printing problems, procedural changes and inconsistencies in posting results, international observers were generally positive about the election.

However, Amnesty International said that political parties are deliberately spreading confusion by sharing false reports.

“Many posts by both Kenya Kwanza and AZIMIO candidates and their supporters have deliberately attempted to misinform voters …about the electoral process and election results,” the rights group said in a statement, referring to the political alliance of Ruto and Odinga.

Former US ambassador Johnny Carson – a board member of the National Democratic Institute, an election monitor – said the process needed to be credible rather than speedy.

“Citizen trust and integrity in the process should not be overtaken by technology,” he said.

Meanwhile, the media is filling the information gap.

As of 1500 GMT on Thursday, privately owned Nation Group had counted results from 89% of polling stations and put Ruto ahead with 50.20% and Odinga with 49.12%.

At the same time, private citizens voted 49.09% for Ruto and 49.51% for Odinga.

Odinga had 51.5% of the vote and Ruto 47.86%, according to a Reuters tally of 98 of 291 constituency-level results at 1500 GMT.

Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta has reached his two-term limit. He has backed Odinga after falling out with Ruto after the last election.

The winning candidate needs to win 50% of the vote plus one and at least a quarter of the votes in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If there is no winner, there will be a second round of voting unless the two presidential candidates currently have less than one percent of the vote between them.

Many Kenyans, disillusioned with the shifting coalition of elites and fed up with rising prices and corruption, did not bother to vote in Tuesday’s round.

The commission said turnout for the ballot, which also included assembly and local elections, was around 65%, down from around 80% in 2017.

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Additional reporting by Catherine Horold and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Ainat Mercy in Eldoret, Daoud Yusuf in Garissa; Writing by Kathryn Horrold; Editing by Toby Chopra, Alexandra Hudson and John Stonestreet

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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