NAIROBI – Kenyans nervously eyed results Tuesday trickling in a day after they turned out peacefully en masse for critical presidential elections, the first since disputed polls five years ago triggered a wave of violence.
Throughout the night, results slowly filtered in from the polls — seen as key to the regional powerhouse’s stability — with almost a third of polling stations posting results by midmorning Tuesday.
The two front-runners are Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of victory in 2007, and Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges of crimes against humanity over the violence that left more than 1,100 people dead and forced more than 600,000 to flee their homes.
Voters standing for hours in snaking lines several hundred meters long — and several people thick — waited peacefully outside polling stations to take part in one of the most complex elections Kenya has ever held.
Hours before polling stations opened, bloody clashes erupted on the Indian Ocean coast, where six policemen and six attackers were killed. Several bombs that wounded one person in Mandera, a northeastern town on the border with war-torn Somalia, were also reported.
Kenyan police head David Kimaiyo blamed the coastal attacks on suspected members of the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), and said that 400 officers were being sent to beef up security in the popular tourist region.
But few other incidents were reported during polls.
More than 12 hours after most closed, results from 32 percent of the 31,981 polling stations — with more than 4 million ballots counted out of 14.3 million registered voters — had been sent to the central tallying center in the capital, Nairobi.
Of those counted at 9:45 a.m., Kenyatta had taken 2,068,696 votes, or 54 percent of valid votes cast, with Odinga having won 1,562,288, or 41 percent.
None of the other five candidates had taken more than 1 percent, while more than 237,000 rejected votes made up a staggering 5 percent of the votes cast.
Ahmed Issack Hassan, the head of the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC), said Monday that turnout was likely to top 70 percent.
Analysts said that would suggest around 10 million people had voted, and that the partial results released could not be used to suggest a winner.
As voters waited, many bleary eyed from having stayed up all night after watching the slow counting of votes, parties and newspapers urged calm.
“Let us be patient with IEBC as they release the results,” Kenyatta’s National Alliance party said in a message on Twitter. “We urge all Kenyans, and especially political leaders, to be patient as results are released.”
“This election is a turning point, and its outcome will determine whether the country will proceed as a civilized state,” Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said in its Tuesday editorial. “The most important message is that we must all be ready to accept the election results.”
Contested results in the 2007 poll that showed a win for President Mwai Kibaki over Odinga sparked a wave of protests, notably because of the lack of transparency in the vote-tallying process at the time.
New procedures brought in by the IEBC mean that results are broadcast publicly immediately after they are sent in by polling stations. “As soon as data hits our screens it will be made available to the media in real time,” IEBC Executive Director James Oswago told journalists before the numbers started coming in.
Neck-and-neck rivals for the presidency, Odinga and his deputy, Kenyatta, have publicly vowed there will be no repeat of the bloodshed that followed the 2007 polls. Crimes against humanity trials set for later this year at the International Criminal Court for Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto have raised the stakes: Should they win the vote, the president and vice president could be absent from that trial for years.
Both front-runners have said they are confident of winning the absolute majority needed to avoid a second-round runoff.
“We can win these elections in the first round,” Odinga said after voting in Nairobi’s Kibera shantytown, the scene of some of the worst ethnic clashes in 2007.
Kenyatta, voting in his hometown of Gatundu some 90 km north of Nairobi, said he was “ready and prepared for whatever outcome” Kenyans chose.
Kenyans cast six ballots, voting for a new president, parliamentarians, governors, senators, councilors and special women’s representatives.
The violence in 2007 and 2008 exposed deep tribal divisions and widespread disenchantment with the political class that shattered Kenya’s image as a beacon of regional stability. More checks are in place this time to limit vote-rigging, while a new constitution devolving powers has made the poll less of a winner-take-all race.