Slow tallies in close Kenya presidential vote feed anxiety
Vote-tallying in Kenya’s close presidential election isn’t moving fast enough, the electoral commission chair said on Friday, while parallel counting by local media stopped or dramatically slowed amid public concerns about censorship or meddling.
Differing tallies by media outlets fed anxiety as long-time opposition leader Raila Odinga, backed by former rival and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in his fifth attempt at the presidency, was in a race with Deputy President William Ruto, who fell out with the president years ago.
Three days after Tuesday’s vote, Kenyans wondered whether the presidential election would go to a run-off for the first time.
The head of the government-created Media Council of Kenya told The Associated Press that “no one has asked anyone to stop” their tallies, but added that “we want to align the numbers with each other” and “I think let’s peer review our numbers”. David Omwoyo was going into a meeting with media leaders as he spoke.
With no clear winner emerging and perhaps days more to wait, social media hummed with unverified claims by both candidates’ supporters, which rights groups called dangerous in a country with a history of political violence.
Even the official count was sluggish, adding to impatience. “We’re not moving as fast as we should,” electoral commission chair Wafula Chebukati said.
That surprised a senior electoral expert who has observed the election and told the AP that “looking at things right now, they should have no problem finishing by the constitutional limit” of seven days after the vote. The expert spoke on condition of anonymity without authorisation to speak publicly.
“You want to move as fast as the speed of trust,” the expert said, adding that “this is going much smoother than we anticipated, and that’s a good thing”. They suggested posting a spreadsheet to make it easier to see the numbers from the more than 46,000 results forms posted from around the country.
The public posting of the forms was meant to be a groundbreaking exercise in transparency for the electoral commission, which is under pressure after the high court cited irregularities and overturned the results of the previous presidential election in 2017, a first in Africa. Kenyatta won the new vote after Odinga boycotted it.
The commission chair even appeared to tease local media houses a day after the election, saying they were “behind” in tallying.
To win outright, a candidate needs more than half of all votes and at least 25% of the votes in more than half of Kenya’s 47 counties. No outright winner means a run-off election within 30 days.
Seeking answers, some Kenyans have turned to counting a far smaller set of results forms, also published by the electoral commission, for 291 constituencies. Almost 80% of them were posted as of Friday night.
Turnout dipped sharply in this election, to 65%, 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.