, NAIROBI, Mar 5 – Kenyans nervously eyed results 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 bloodletting.
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 mid-morning Tuesday.
The two front runners are Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of victory in 2007, and Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces crimes against humanity charges over the violence that killed more than 1,100 people and forced over 600,000 to flee their homes.
Voters standing for hours in snaking lines several hundred metres (yards) long – and several people thick – crowded 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 in which six policemen and six attackers were killed, as well as several bombs that wounded one person in Mandera, a northeastern town on the border with war-torn Somalia.
Kenyan police chief 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 polls closed, results from 32pc of the 31,981 polling stations – with over four million ballots counted from the 14.3 million registered voters – had been sent to the central tallying centre in the capital Nairobi.
Of those counted at 9:45am (0645 GMT), Kenyatta had taken 2,068,696 votes, or 54pc of valid votes cast, with Odinga having won 1,562,288, or 41pc.
None of the other five candidates had taken more than one percent, while more than 237,000 rejected votes made up a staggering 5pc of votes cast.
Ahmed Issack Hassan, the head of the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC), said late Monday that turnout was likely to be over 70pc.
Analysts said that would suggest around 10 million people had cast a ballot, 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 The National Alliance party said in 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 civilised 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 which President Mwai Kibaki won against Odinga sparked a wave of protests, notably because of the lack of transparency in the way the tallying was done at that time.
New procedures brought in by the IEBC mean that results are broadcast publically 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,” James Oswago, IEBC executive director, 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 later this year at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto have raised the stakes.
Both front-runners have said they are confident of winning the absolute majority needed to avoid a second round runoff vote.
“We can win these elections in the first round…” Odinga said after voting in Nairobi’s Kibera shanty town, the scene of some of the worst ethnic clashes after the 2007 poll.
Kenyatta, voting in his hometown of Gatundu some 90 kilometres (55 miles) 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, councillors and special women’s representatives.
The 2007-2008 violence exposed deep tribal divisions and widespread disenchantment with the political class and 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.