Deputy president William Ruto has been declared winner of the presidential election in Kenya, but his main rival’s supporters and some election commissioners disputed the result.
After a fiercely fought electoral campaign, Ruto won 50.5 per cent of the vote, while former prime minister and veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who was backed by outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta, won 48.8 per cent with all the votes counted, according to official results released on Monday.
The election, a test of Kenya’s stability, is widely seen as one of the most significant on the African continent this year.
Wafula Chebukati, chair of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, declared Ruto president of Kenya, “in accordance with the constitution and the law”.
“It is a wonderful evening,” Ruto said at the tallying centre after he was declared winner. “We have raised the bar in this election, which has been more about the issues” than “ethnic” affiliations, which in previous polls contributed to post-election violence. “I will work with all leaders in Kenya so that we can fashion a country that leaves nobody behind.”
In a sign of voter weariness, the IEBC said the turnout dropped to almost 65 per cent, down from about 80 per cent in recent presidential elections.
A former street-chicken hawker who became one of Kenya’s richest businessmen, Ruto alluded to his humble pedigree in his campaign. He sought to contrast his rise to the top of politics with that of Odinga and Kenyatta, both sons of prominent leaders who spearheaded the independence movement from Britain in 1963.
But the outcome is being contested by supporters of veteran opposition leader, Odinga. Electoral authorities, international observers and diplomats were whisked out of the room minutes before Chebukati announced the contested results, following a fracas between supposed Odinga supporters and the police.
Odinga — who has stood for election five times and has not yet conceded defeat — is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. It could be weeks before a new president is sworn in, spurring fears of unrest.
“We have intelligence and reports that the system was penetrated and hacked and that some of the IEBC officials actually committed electoral offences and some of them ought to be arrested if they were not arrested,” Saitabao Ole Kanchory, Odinga’s chief electoral agent, told reporters before the results were released, calling the national tallying centre in Nairobi a “crime scene”.
Juliana Cherera, deputy chair of the IEBC, also questioned the outcome in a separate press conference. “As the commission we have done a good job. But some things need to be put outside there. This is because of the opaque nature [of] how the last phase of the general election has been handled, therefore we cannot take ownership of how the elections has been handled,” she said, speaking on behalf of a group of election officials.
Ababu Namwamba, a senior adviser to Ruto, said “the pace of the counting has been slow, which has made everybody anxious, but the polls overall have been really transparent”.
The disputed result could fuel anxiety. “We must all avoid raising tensions that could easily trigger violence,” a grouping of civil society organisations said in a joint statement.
About 14mn Kenyan voters went to the polls on Tuesday to select the president, deputy, and members of parliament against a backdrop of soaring food prices and high levels of public debt.