By JASON STRAZIUSO*
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s election commission posted complete results early Saturday showing that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta prevailed in the country’s presidential elections by the slimmest of margins, winning 50.03 percent of the vote.
That result is likely to bring controversy in Kenya and an almost certain legal challenge from Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Kenyatta needed to break the 50 percent barrier to avoid a run-off with Odinga, but he did so by only 4,099 votes out of more than 12.3 million cast.
Monday’s presidential vote was the first since Kenya’s 2007 election sparked two months of tribe-on-tribe violence after a disputed election win was claimed by President Mwai Kibaki. More than 1,000 people were killed in attacks that included machetes, bows and arrows and police firearms.
A win by Kenyatta could greatly affect Kenya’s relations with the West. Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in directing some of Kenya’s 2007 postelection violence. His running mate, William Ruto, faces similar charges.
The U.S. has warned of “consequences” if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father, wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would have only essential contact with the Kenyan government if Kenyatta is president.
Odinga’s camp has indicated legal challenges could be filed. Monday’s presidential vote proceeded mostly peacefully, but the counting process has been stymied by a myriad of break-downs and errors. That the winner was quietly revealed overnight — at about 2:35 a.m. local time — came as somewhat of a surprise.
At about midnight the electoral commission said it would give a formal announcement of the winner at 11 a.m. Kenya time (3 a.m. EST) Saturday. Observers believed that the decision was made in part not to reveal a winner overnight, something that could stir suspicions and put security forces at a disadvantage if rioting broke out.
In order to win outright, Kenyatta must not only get more than 50 percent of the vote but also must garner at least 25 percent of the vote in 24 out of Kenya’s 47 provinces. Because of the way the election commission announced results, it was difficult to immediately determine if Kenyatta passed that bar.
Diplomats said they believed Odinga was not likely to protest the vote in a manner that would increase the chances of violence, but rather honor his pledge to respect the result and petition the courts with any grievances. Odinga scheduled a news conference for later Saturday morning.
The Kenyan capital has been sleepy since Monday’s vote for president, the country’s first election since its 2007 vote sparked tribe-on-tribe violence that killed more than 1,000 people. But security forces in riot gear took to the streets Friday in regions of the city that could turn tumultuous after results are announced.
The prime minister’s supporters took to the streets in 2007 after Odinga said he had been cheated. In Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum and a bastion of Odinga support, many believe this year’s results have been rigged as well.
The results showed Odinga with 43.3 percent. “If you look at the way the tallying is being done there is rigging,” said Isiah Omondi, 27. “If Uhuru wins and wins fairly, we don’t have a problem with him. He can be our president. But not like this.”
The election outcome is being closely watched by the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is larger than any American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya’s strong role in U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. also has military forces stationed here near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the lynchpin of East Africa’s economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.
Kenyatta’s International Criminal Court trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague, Netherlands, for much of his five-year term. Another option is, as president, to decide not to attend the trial. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya’s standing with the West.
Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague, even if he wins the presidency. The ICC on Friday delayed the trial of Ruto until late May. Odinga’s camp may have grounds to file legal challenges after myriad failures in the systems Kenya’s electoral commission set up.
For instance, an electronic voter ID system intended to prevent fraud failed across the country for lack of electricity in some cases and overheating computers in others. Vote officials instead used manual voter rolls.
After the polls closed, results were to be sent electronically to Nairobi, where officials would quickly tabulate a preliminary vote count in order to maximize transparency after rigging accusations following the 2007 vote. But that system failed, too. Election officials have indicated that computer servers overloaded but have yet to fully explain the problem.
On Tuesday, as the early count system was still being used, election results showed more than 330,000 rejected ballots, an unusually high number. But after the count resumed with the arrival in Nairobi of manual tallies, the number of rejected ballots were greatly reduced, and the election commission on Thursday gave the head-scratching explanation that the computer was mistakenly multiplying the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight.
Odinga’s camp on Thursday said some votes had been doctored and called for a halt to the tallying process, saying it “lacked integrity.” A day earlier, Kenyatta’s camp accused the British high commissioner of meddling in the election and asked aloud why there were an unusually high number of British troops in the country.
The election commission has denied any of the results have been altered. There were fears going into the election that the violence that rocked Kenya five years ago would return. A separatist group on the coast launched attacks on Monday that ended in the deaths of 19 people, but the vote and its aftermath has otherwise been largely peaceful.
But it’s the announcement of results that could stir protests, especially if the supporters of either camp feel robbed.
* Culled from ABC Associated Press reporters Rodney Muhumuza and Tom Odula contributed to this report.