Dead heat for Kenya presidency as election results trickle in

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By Reuters

NAIROBI: Two days after Kenya’s general election officials were collating results on Thursday but had yet to announce who is leading the presidential race in East Africa’s regional powerhouse.

Media houses are trying to do their own tallies but only have images of results forms from more than 46 229 polling stations, leading to divergent tallies and public confusion in a very close race between the two frontrunners.

Some citizens worried the divergent tallies could inflame claims of rigging, which have sparked violence in past elections. Many urged fellow citizens to wait for the official results.

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“There is so much impatience due to media reports, because they are varying. Given the experience that we have in Kenya, we have to be patient and just wait,” said Ongao Okello, as he scrutinised newspapers being sold on a street corner in the western town of Eldoret.

Results are being watched carefully: Kenya is the region’s richest economy, a stable nation in a volatile region and a close Western ally that hosts regional headquarters for Alphabet, Visa and other international groups.

Veteran opposition leader and former political prisoner Raila Odinga, 77, is making his fifth stab at the presidency. He is neck and neck with Deputy President William Ruto, 55.

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

Kenyan election authorities have preceded with tallying cautiously, wary of the mistakes that caused the Supreme Court to nullify the results last time and order a re-run.

Media houses have filled the information gap by recruiting hundreds of people to manually input results from the images of results forms into spreadsheets.

By 07:30 GMT on Thursday, the privately-owned Nation group had tallied results from around 70% of polling stations and put Odinga ahead with 51.90% of the vote and Ruto at 47.43%.

READ | Early signs show tight Kenyan presidential election

At the same time, privately-owned Citizen gave Ruto 49.75% of the vote and Odinga 48.86%.

The winning candidate must get 50% of the vote plus one to win, and at least a quarter of votes in 24 out of Kenya’s 47 counties.

The tallies differ because results from the polling stations were uploaded as they came in, and so each media group is counting up slightly different portions of the vote.

Many Kenyans, frustrated by the shifting alliances of the elites and fed up of rising prices and corruption, didn’t bother to vote at all.

The commission said about 65% of registered voters turned out for the legislative, local and presidential elections – a big drop from 2017 when voter participation was nearly 80%.

The elections have largely been peaceful so far; major protests and clashes usually only follow result announcements. More than 1 200 people were killed after the 2007 elections, and more than 100 after the 2017 polls.

Author and political commentator Nanjala Nyabola said the lack of violence should not be the standard for a success.

“People are just looking for the absence or presence of violence and as a Kenyan it’s a really demoralising standard to be told we should only aspire to the bare minimum,” she said. “We are trying to hold ourselves to a higher standard.