THE son of Kenya’s founding father, Uhuru Kenyatta, was named the winner of the country’s presidential election with 50.07 per cent of the vote, but his opponent immediately contested the result, citing “multiple failures” in the election process.
Supporters of Kenyatta – a man accused by an international court of helping to orchestrate the vicious violence that marred the nation’s last vote – flooded the streets, celebrating in a parade of red, his campaign’s colour.
Refusing to concede defeat, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the election process experienced multiple failures and announced plans to petition the Supreme Court. Odinga asked for calm and for Kenyans to love one another, a call that may help prevent a repeat of the 2007-08 violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
Kenyatta’s slim margin of victory increases the focus on a multitude of electoral failures that occurred during the six-day voting and counting process. His margin of victory was just 4,099 votes out of 12.3 million cast.
The United States, Britain and the European Union gave Kenya’s new political era a chilly reception. All released statements, but none mentioned Kenyatta by name. The West had made it clear before the vote that it would not welcome a President Kenyatta.
Kenyatta faces trial in July at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over allegations he orchestrated the murder, forcible deportation, persecution and rape of Odinga’s supporters in the aftermath of the 2007 vote. Kenyatta, as president, may have to spend large chunks of his first years in office in a Hague courtroom.
The US previously warned of “consequences” if Kenyatta wins, the nature of which depends on what happens in the coming months. Britain has said it would have only essential contact with Kenyatta as president.
In his acceptance speech, Kenyatta gave a nod to the ICC, saying he recognises the nation’s international obligations. He pledged to continue to co-operate with “international institutions” but he also said he expects the international community to “respect our sovereignty and the democratic will of the people of Kenya”.
Kenyatta was immediately afforded the state security for a president-elect, travelling in a shiny black convoy from the tallying centre to his election headquarters. In his speech, he thanked Odinga – calling him “my brother” – for a spirited campaign.
“Today we celebrate the triumph of democracy, the triumph of peace, the triumph of nationhood,” he said, adding later: “My pledge to you is that as your president I will work on behalf of all citizens regardless of political affiliation. I will honour the will of Kenyans and ensure that my government protects their rights and acts without fear or favour, in the interests of our nation.”
If Kenyatta’s victory holds, the son of Jomo Kenyatta will become the fourth president of Kenya since its independence from British rule in 1963.
In the wake of the Kenyatta’s victory, minor skirmishes were reported, but no major violence was confirmed.
Government officials have been working for months to avoid the post-election violence that brought Kenya to the brink of civil war five years ago, when more than 600,000 people were forced from their homes after President Mwai Kibaki – a Kikuyu like Kenyatta – was pronounced the winner over Odinga, a Luo.
The election commission held a dramatic televised announcement where officials appealed to Kenyans to accept the results with grace.
“There can be victory without victims,” said Ahmed Issack Hassan, the chairman of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Francis Eshitemi, an Odinga supporter in Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera, said it was clear his candidate had lost in a free and fair election and that he expected him to concede.
“The problem is that Raila doesn’t have the numbers. There were a few irregularities, but the gap between Raila and Uhuru is big,” he said.
Isaac Khayiya, another Odinga supporter, said: “This time we want post-election peace, not war. We will be the ones to suffer if there is violence. For them – Uhuru, Ruto, Odinga – they have security and they are rich.”
Kenyatta’s task was not simply to beat Odinga, but to get over the 50 per cent mark and avoid a head-to-head runoff. Eight candidates ran for president. Even if Odinga succeeds in dropping Kenyatta’s final numbers below 50 per cent and forces a run-off, he still has a huge gap in votes to make up in a potential second round.
Odinga listed election failures over the last week: a voter ID system was scrapped on Monday after the technology failed; a tally of early returns froze and was scrapped on Tuesday after computer servers overloaded; election officials said a computer error had inflated the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight in the early tallying system.
“What Kenyans witnessed ... was the failure of virtually every instrument that the [election commission] deployed for the election,” Odinga said. “They all failed despite the billions [of Kenya shillings] spent on them.”