Kenya elects new president, but disputes erupt

NAIROBI, Kenya – On a continent where military coups and rubber stamp elections have proliferated in recent years, Kenya stands out. De...


NAIROBI, Kenya – On a continent where military coups and rubber stamp elections have proliferated in recent years, Kenya stands out.

Despite its flaws and endemic corruption, East Africa’s nation and economic might have become a beacon of what is possible, its democracy underpinned by a strong constitution and its hard-fought elections an example for other nations. African women trying to make their way. of autocracy.

But Kenya has just hit a speed bump.

On Monday, a winner was declared in his last presidential election, ending an unpredictable battle that had millions of Kenyans glued to their TVs and smartphones as the results came in. William Ruto, the president-elect, beamed as he addressed a room full of roaring supporters, praising “the very historic and democratic occasion”.

But the losing candidate, Raila Odinga, rejected the result even before it was announced. A crash erupted in the room where Mr Ruto had spoken and where the votes had been counted, sending chairs and fists flying. And four election commissioners stormed out, casting doubt on an outcome that will almost certainly end up in court.

And so the election hangs in the balance, scrutinized not just at home but across a continent where Kenya’s exuberant democracy is among those seen as indicators of progress.

“We don’t have the luxury of looking back, we don’t have the luxury of pointing fingers,” Mr Ruto said. “We have to close ranks to work together.”

It started as a day of hope.

Early in the morning, several thousand people began to crowd into the giant hall in a Nairobi suburb to hear the election results, after an arduous six-day tally that kept the country in suspense.

Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga had been neck and neck throughout the count, sometimes separated by as few as 7,000 votes, according to unofficial media tallies. Those razor-thin margins have left many nervous: while its democracy is robust, Kenya’s elections can be vicious, and its last three contests have been marred by contested results that have led to protracted crises, lawsuits and street violence which, in 2007, killed more than 1,200 people.

Punished by these failures, the electoral commission made extraordinary efforts to ensure a clean vote. Within 24 hours of the polls closing last Tuesday night, he had posted images on his website showing the results from nearly every polling station – more than 46,000 of them.

But as Wafula Chebukati, the chief electoral commissioner, prepared to announce the winner on Monday, one of Mr Odinga’s top aides called an impromptu press conference outside.

“It was the worst run election in Kenya’s history,” Saitabao Ole Kanchory told reporters in a wave of invective describing the counting center as “a crime scene” and calling on those responsible “to be arrested”.

Moments later, pandemonium erupted inside the room.

Supporters of Mr. Odinga, including Mr. Ole Kanchory, stormed the dais, throwing chairs to the floor and clashing with security guards wielding batons. Foreign diplomats and election observers fled backstage – but a choir that had been singing gospel songs for much of the day continued to sing.

Once the situation had calmed down, Mr Chebukati appeared to deliver a short speech in which he noted that two of his commissioners had been injured in the melee – and others harassed, “arbitrarily arrested” or missing – before proceeding to the announcement of the results.

Mr Ruto won 50.49% of the vote, he said, to 48.85% for Mr Odinga, a difference of just 233,211 votes but enough to avoid a runoff.

In a speech that seemed meant to project authority and reassure, Mr Ruto thanked his supporters and pledged to work for the good of Kenya. He vowed to put aside the bitterness of the campaign – and the chaotic scenes just minutes earlier – to focus on the country’s faltering economy.

“There is no room for revenge,” said Mr Ruto, flanked by his wife and running mate, Rigathi Gachagua. “Our country is at a stage where we need everyone on deck to take it forward. We don’t have the luxury of looking back.

Celebrations erupted in the streets of Eldoret, a stronghold of Mr Ruto in the Rift Valley, where there was a deafening cacophony of horns, whistles and chants filling the town centre.

But in much of the country, his victory was overshadowed by a major fact: four of the seven electoral commissioners refused to verify the vote, defying Mr Chebukati and decamping to a luxury hotel where they denounced “the opaqueness”. of the final phase. County.

It turned out that these Commissioners had been appointed by Mr Odinga’s most prominent ally in the race, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is barred by term limits from running again.

Speaking to reporters hours later, Mr Ruto called their statement a “side show”. Under Kenyan law, he said, Mr Chebukati is solely responsible for declaring the winner.

“Legally, constitutionally, the four commissioners pose no threat to the legality of the declaration,” Mr Ruto said.

Yet the drama suggested that a day that should have marked the end of the presidential race could end up being just another chapter in the fierce race that has had Kenyans on the edge of their seats since the vote. of Tuesday.

The candidates were a study in contrasts.

Mr Odinga, 77, a leftist from one of Kenya’s most notorious political dynasties, made his first run for president in 1997. He ran three more times, always losing, before trying again. year.

Although he was once Prime Minister, Mr Odinga’s electoral defeats epitomize the wider frustrations of his ethnic group, the Luo, who have never controlled the Kenyan presidency since the nation gained independence from Great Britain. -Britain in 1963.

Mr Ruto, 55, the country’s vice president and wealthy businessman, has cast himself as the champion of Kenya’s “hustler nation” – the disillusioned, mostly young wrestlers struggling to establish themselves. He often spoke to voters about his humble origins, including a barefoot childhood and early career selling chickens on the side of a busy highway.

This image contrasted with Mr. Ruto’s considerable wealth, which grew during his political career to include a luxury hotel, thousands of acres of land and a large poultry processing plant.

While the “scammer” tone resonated powerfully with some Kenyans, others just shrugged. Only 40% of Kenyans under 35 registered to vote in this election, and the 65% turnout was down sharply from the 80% reported in the 2017 elections.

The low turnout appeared to be a rejection of what many saw as a poor choice between candidates from their country’s discredited political elite.

By voting for Mr Ruto, millions of Kenyans ignored the charges he once faced at the International Criminal Court, which a decade ago accused him of stoking the storm of violence after the 2007 elections that almost plunged Kenya into a civil war.

The charges included murder, persecution and forcing people from their homes, but the case collapsed in 2016. The Kenyan government – ​​Mr Ruto was vice president – engaged in what the court said was “witness interference and political interference”.

Mr. Ruto was not only running against Mr. Odinga but, in fact, against his own boss, Mr. Kenyatta, whom he accused of treason for supporting Mr. Odinga.

Instead of voting for his chosen successor, Mr Kenyatta suffered a humiliating rebuke from voters in his heartland, the Mount Kenya region, where the ethnic Kikuyus have rejected their allies at all levels. Even at the polling station where Mr. Kenyatta cast his ballot on Tuesday, Mr. Ruto secured a large majority, according to the results.

Debilitating economic turmoil provided a grim backdrop to Tuesday’s vote. The tourism-dependent economy has been battered in recent years, first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by Russia’s assault on Ukraine, which has driven up food and fuel prices even further in a global slowdown.

“Maize flour, cooking oil, cooking gas – everything is going up,” Abzed Osman, an actor who also works in tourism, said as he lined up to vote in the Nairobi district on Tuesday. in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.

On Monday night in Kisumu County, one of Mr Odinga’s strongholds in western Kenya, hundreds of protesters anxiously awaiting the results began demonstrating and burning tyres, witnesses said.

Hours later, a spokesman for Mr Odinga, Dennis Onsarigo, said the candidate scheduled to address the nation on Tuesday.

Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir of Eldoret.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Kenya elects new president, but disputes erupt
Kenya elects new president, but disputes erupt
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