Thursday, March 07, 2013
Kenyan authorities urge patience as vote count drags on
By Edmund Blair and George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan authorities said the outcome of a presidential election would not be compromised by the failure of electronic vote counting technology that has left the nation in the dark about the result three days after the poll.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, 51, who is due to go on trial in The Hague for his role in ethnic killings that followed the last election in 2007, has led since results started trickling in after polls closed on Monday.
But with less than half the ballots tallied, his lead could still be reined in by Raila Odinga, 68, the prime minister who lost in the poll five years ago. That could set the stage for a run-off in April, prolonging the uncertainty.
Western donors, who pour hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into Kenya each year, have already indicated that a win by Kenyatta, who faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, would complicate diplomatic ties.
Ahmed Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, said vote counting could be concluded on Friday but might drag on till Monday, the last day on which by law the results must be publicly declared.
The electronic system had been aimed to provide speedy provisional results before the final figures were manually gathered, but the vacuum left when that system failed has been filled by complaints by rivals over the process.
One area of dispute is whether a block of rejected votes should still be counted in the overall result. If they are, that could prevent Kenyatta securing the more than 50 percent that a candidate needs to win in the first round. However, the commission is now reporting fewer rejected votes than before.
Grumblings about the process and uncertainty about the outcome has left many Kenyans anxious about a re-run of the tribal slaughter that left more than 1,200 dead after the December 2007 poll in which the result was disputed.
But even with a technological set-back, this poll has been far more transparent and international observers have praised the conduct of the vote so far.
"I also want to emphasise that the fact that we are now abandoning the electronic voter transmission does not in any way mean that the integrity of the results which we are being announced are compromised," Hassan told a news conference.
CALLS FOR CALM
Many Kenyans say they are determined not to let the election spark the kind of tribal mayhem after the last poll that hammered the biggest economy in east African, even though voters tend to put tribal loyalties above ideology at the ballot box.
The United States and other Western nations are watching closely, as they see Kenya as vital to regional stability and an ally in the fight against militant Islam in the often volatile Horn of Africa to the country's north.
By 0615 GMT, with more than 4.4 million votes tallied, Kenyatta had 2.4 million votes to Odinga's 1.75 million, giving the deputy prime minister more than 50 percent. But there is still a long way to go, as turnout was estimated at more than 70 percent of the 14.3 million voters.
However, the number of rejected ballots now being declared with the manual tally was less than 40,000 so far compared to the more than 300,000 when provisional figures were being displayed at roughly the same stage of the count.
That could take the heat out of one possible area of dispute, though it was not immediately clear why rejected votes had fallen so sharply as a proportion of the official count.
Voting passed of broadly peacefully and rival candidates have joined in the electoral commission in calling for calm, but Kenyans remain wary.
"If you are waiting for something eagerly and you're not getting it, you will always be frustrated, but we have to control our tempers as we don't really know what's going on," said Modesty Maewida, 38, a hotel worker in Mombasa.
Some businesses have stayed closed out of fear of riots and looting, pushing up food prices in some places. Many store owners in flashpoints last time have been reluctant to stock, creating hardship for some small traders.
"My milk store has run dry and I have nothing left for sale," said Bruno Gogi, 30, in the city of Kisumu that was devastated by the post-2007 vote violence. "If the situation is prolonged for a couple of days, I don't know what will happen."
The Kenyan shilling weakened 1 percent against the dollar on Wednesday on concerns that delays in announcing a winner would prompt rivals to challenge the election outcome.
Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition has accused foreign nations of seeking to meddle in the vote, singling out British High Commissioner Christian Turner for criticism. Turner dismissed the charges of interference as "entirely false and misleading."
Odinga's camp has also questioned parts of the election process before, during and after the vote, hinting at the potential for legal challenges that could cloud the outcome.
(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Yara Bayoumy in Nairobi, Drazen Jorgic in Mombasa and Hezron Ochiel in Kisumu; Writing by Edmund Blair and James Macharia; Editing by Richard Lough, John Stonestreet)
Running mate for Kenya's Odinga wants vote count stopped