Concerns mount over claims in Kenya’s close presidential election

Nairobi, Kenya — Human rights groups on Wednesday warned concerned Kenyans of “increasing levels of false or misleading information being shared on social media” as the country awaited the results of a close presidential election. The electoral commission said it would take at least Thursday to declare a winner.

Notable supporters of the two leading candidates tweeted the victory, citing counts based on more than 46,000 results forms posted online by the election commission in a gesture of transparency. Kenyan media rushed to do their own counts, but their varying, incomplete results caused confusion. The government-established Media Council of Kenya said it was in consultation with editors for an “urgent solution to ensure Kenyans receive synchronized results.”

A day after Tuesday’s election, in which turnout was noticeably lower than in years past, interest in the winner rose in a country often seen as an example of relatively strong democracy in Africa.

Amnesty International Kenya and other groups in a statement urged Kenyans to consider all results preliminary until the Election Commission releases official results to reduce the risks of violence or claims of manipulation. But in some places tensions were already high. An angry mob formed in Nairobi’s Mathare neighborhood after the seals of some polling stations at a polling station were broken.

This election is likely to be the latest attempt by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is backed in his fifth attempt by former rival and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta. The other big contender is Vice President William Ruto, who got into an argument with the president earlier in their decade in power.

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Voters have expressed little hope for real change and frustration with rising prices and widespread corruption in East Africa’s economic center.

The electoral commission said turnout was at least 65%, much lower than the 80% in the previous election in 2017. More than 22 million people had registered to vote, but some told The Associated Press they doubted they would bother. discouraged by economic challenges including high government debt and widespread unemployment.

Both top candidates have long been known to Kenyans, Odinga as a democracy champion and former political detainee and Ruto as a wealthy populist who plays his humble childhood in contrast to the dynasties from which Odinga and Kenyatta sprang.

The president’s support for Odinga crossed the usual ethnic lines that have long defined elections and contributed to violence. This time around, there is no candidate from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, although both top candidates chose Kikuyu running mates.

The official election results must be announced within one week of the vote. More than 99% of the results forms were submitted electronically by polling stations to the commission on Wednesday, but it has yet to verify them with the physical forms.

“The issue of saying we have to announce results today (Wednesday) won’t happen today,” committee chair Wafula Chebukati told journalists, but he said the goal is to complete the process “as early as possible”. He said the poll went smoothly.

“It won’t be ready until it’s done,” tweeted Odinga’s running mate Martha Karua, while other top candidates went publicly silent.

A second round is held if no candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote.

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On the eve of the vote, the Kenyan government reminded people that “this will be a GAME, not a BATTLE. A match must have a winner and a loser. Sometimes life can be lost in a fight.”

More than 1,000 people were killed after the 2007 election results were announced and Odinga allegedly committed mass manipulation. In 2017, the Supreme Court quashed the election results, a first in Africa, after Odinga alleged irregularities. He boycotted the new elections and declared himself ‘People’s President’, while raising charges of treason.

A handshake with Kenyatta calmed that crisis, set up their unusual alliance and angered Ruto, who continues to accuse the president of treason.

Both Odinga and Ruto have said they will accept the results as long as the vote is free and fair.

Problems already reported include the failure of about 200 voting kits out of more than 46,000. The Election Commission called it “not widespread” and “normal” for technology to break down sometimes. But some local reports also quoted people as saying they couldn’t vote if polling station members didn’t use the paper electoral register as a backup, which was allowed.

Such frustrations arose even after Kenya budgeted $347 million, or more than $15 per voter, for one of Africa’s most expensive elections.

Waiting for a winner brought fear and fatigue. “Everyone is very exhausted, everyone is eager to hand out the ballot boxes and go back home because we haven’t even slept in the last two days,” said Loice Wanjiru, a deputy chairman of a counting center in Nairobi.

Kenyans have one week from the announcement of the official results to file any lawsuits. The court has two weeks to make a decision. New elections would be held within 60 days.

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