Kenya election: Voters head to the polls in close polls
Vice President William Ruto, 55, says he will better represent Kenya’s poor with a ‘bottom-up’ economic model targeted at small businesses and tackling unemployment, often describing how he only succeeded after having worked as a chicken farmer in his youth. Ruto, who publicly fell out with Kenyatta during his second term in government, tried to cast the election as a competition between “scammers” like himself and “dynasties” like the Kenyattas and Odingas.
As Kenyans voted, many said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the violence that overshadowed past elections and had high hopes for peace. Post-election violence in 2008 left more than 1,000 dead and 600,000 displaced, and the last election in 2017 was marred by street riots and a long period of turbulence following a botched vote.
“We have grown,” Betty Kasaya Velma, 44, said of the country after voting in the Westlands neighborhood, predicting the process would go smoothly.
Velma, a mother of three, said she was devastated by rising prices for “everything” in Kenya, including food, fuel and school fees. She voted for Odinga, who was a political prisoner in the 1980s and helped usher in Kenya’s multi-party system, saying he represented the best chance for change.
“He’s natural and he’s a fighter,” she said.
The election is being closely watched abroad, including in Washington. Kenya has been an important ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism and a source of stability in the region.
Analysts predict the contest could be one of the tightest in recent history. A runoff would be triggered if none of the candidates achieves a 50% majority, which could hinge on the success of a third candidate, George Wajackoyah, whose platform is built around the legalization of medical marijuana. While some of Wajackoyah’s ideas are seen as outlandish – including exporting hyena testicles – the reggae-loving teacher has won a passionate fan base.
Election officials said Tuesday night turnout was 56% as of 4 p.m. Final results will be announced within a week and could arrive as early as Wednesday, depending on when counting is complete, officials said.
Whoever wins will have to tackle the country’s huge debt, soaring inflation, a drought in the north that has left millions starving and rising youth unemployment. Many voters are disenchanted, unsure whether Odinga or Ruto would deliver on their promises.
“I don’t think a lot of their promises are based on rationality,” said Timothy Njoya, a retired reverend and human rights activist. “They’re based on making people happy, on having fun.”
This election, he said, is “the worst in Kenya’s history”, describing the choice between Odinga and Ruto as “between a burglar and a cattle rustler”.
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This year, Odinga and Ruto have publicly raised their concerns with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the body overseeing the elections, citing issues such as technical preparation and voters disappearing from the register. But both also said they would accept the election results.
“If I lose evenly, I will be the first to concede defeat,” Odinga said in an interview at his mansion in Kisumu, western Kenya. “But if it’s not fair, then I will follow normal channels to resolve the issues.”
Both tickets have filled stadiums with energetic supporters in recent days, with Ruto supporters dancing and wearing shirts at a rally in Nairobi on Saturday which declared: “Freedom is coming”. In Kisumu, Odinga’s hometown, his fans last week held a huge gavel to symbolize the justice they believe Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua, will bring. Karua would be Kenya’s first female vice president.
After voting in Nairobi, Anne Mugure, 61, said she thought Ruto would do the best job. As a member of the Kikuyu tribe, she said she had reservations about Odinga, who is from the Luo tribe. Ruto’s description of himself as a “scam artist” also resonated with the grandmother, who said she often had multiple jobs to get by.
“Even I hustle,” she said.