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Nervous Kenya votes in tight election campaign

#Nervous #Kenya #votes #tight #election #campaign

Millions of Kenyans head to the polls on Tuesday, and East Africa’s powerhouse is on edge as two political heavyweights go head-to-head in a hard-fought race for the presidency.

Kenyans are praying for a peaceful transfer of power after nearly a decade under President Uhuru Kenyatta, but concerns over vote-rigging linger in a nation still wracked by previous election disputes that have escalated into deadly violence.

The vote comes as the country grapples with rising food and fuel prices, an agonizing drought that is starving millions of people, and deep disenchantment with the political elite, particularly among young voters.

In the run for the presidency, deputy president and heir-apparent William Ruto, 55, faces Raila Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader now backed by Kenyatta, after a startling switch of political allegiances.

Analysts have in recent days suggested Odinga, a former political prisoner and former prime minister running for the top job for the fifth time, could overtake his younger rival.

But if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, Kenya would be forced to hold a runoff for the first time in its history.

Despite the mudslinging and widespread disinformation, the election campaign was largely peaceful, in contrast to previous polls.

The Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission is now under pressure to ensure a free and fair vote in all six elections — for the presidency, senators, governors, lawmakers, women’s representatives and some 1,500 county officials.

But the election has already run into some trouble as six IEBC officials were arrested on Monday and the commission suspended constituency or gubernatorial polls in several counties over faulty ballots.

IEBC chief Wafula Chebukati pledged that the body would not hesitate to take “strong action” against any official disregard for electoral laws.

“Let’s stand up together and show the world that Kenya is a vibrant democracy.”

– Beacon of Stability-

Kenya’s international partners are watching intently the vote in a country seen as a beacon of stability and democracy in a troubled region, and diplomats are expressing cautious optimism it will be largely non-violent.

Both Ruto and Odinga have called for a peaceful vote, but fears remain that if the losing candidate challenges the result – as was widely expected – the discord could erupt in street fighting.

Security is tight, with more than 150,000 officers standing by to keep polling stations safe.

The trauma of the 2007 elections, which followed a horrific series of politically motivated ethnic clashes that left more than 1,100 dead, is still great.

And Odinga’s challenge to the 2017 election result, which saw then-opponent Kenyatta re-elected, was met with a brutal police response that left dozens dead.

The Supreme Court ordered a rerun of the 2017 vote, citing widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the IEBC.

No result of the presidential election has gone unchallenged since 2002 and there will be eager anticipation for this year’s results, which are not expected for several days.

“Kenya votes, East Africa holds its breath,” was the headline in the regional newspaper The East African.

With neither Ruto nor Odinga belonging to the dominant Kikuyu tribe that produced three of the country’s four presidents, the election will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history.

More than 22 million people out of about 50 million residents have registered to cast their ballots and polling stations will be open from 06:00 to 17:00 (0300 GMT to 1400 GMT).

– ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ –

Ruto, whose party symbol is the wheelbarrow, has portrayed the election as a battle between the ordinary ‘hustlers’ and the ‘dynasties’ – the Kenyatta and Odinga families who have dominated Kenyan politics since independence from Britain in 1963.

Some observers say that in a country where a third of the population lives in poverty, economic pressures could rival tribal affiliations as a key factor in voting behavior.

“The redesigned electoral checkerboard means the outcome will likely depend on the extent to which Odinga and Ruto can muster support outside of their respective bases,” Meron Elias, analyst for East and South Africa at International Crisis Group, said in a note.

Lawyers David Mwaure and George Wajackoyah – the latter an eccentric former spy who wants to legalize marijuana – are also running but are likely to fall well behind the frontrunners.

If Odinga wins, his Vice President Martha Karua will become the first woman in office.

Both candidates have vowed to get the economy back on its feet, stem Kenya’s massive $70 billion debt and fight the corruption that infects all levels of society.

Already hard hit by the Covid pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousands unemployed, Kenyans are battling rising inflation as the war in Ukraine pushes up the prices of basic necessities.

“I want them all (the politicians) to accept the election so the country can move on in peace,” Grace Kawira, a 32-year-old unemployed mother of two, said at Ruto’s last campaign rally.

“We want jobs, jobs, jobs.”

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#Nervous #Kenya #votes #tight #election #campaign

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