AFRICANGLOBE – Tallying began in Kenya’s election on Monday with officials extending voting times beyond the official 5pm closing to accommodate those still standing in line.
“We wish to inform members of the public that all voters [in] the queue by 5pm will be allowed to vote,” said a statement from the independent election body, the IEBC. “Polling stations that opened late will also close late to compensate for lost time,” it said, referring to delays caused by technical glitches and, along the coast, security incidents.
Queues running a kilometre long snaked through the capital Nairobi on Monday as people waited patiently to vote.
The main contenders, Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister, and Raila Odinga, prime minister, who are virtually tied in polls, urged their supporters to turn out early in a tense and closely contested race likely to be determined by turnout.
Elsewhere, police said at least eight people had been killed in three overnight incidents.
Results are due within seven days but officials say that many provisional returns could be ready by Tuesday morning.
At a school in Nairobi’s affluent Lavington neighbourhood, voters said they had arrived at 4am, two hours before polls were due to open. Problems with electronic poll books, which identify voters using their thumbprints to guard against duplicate voting, delayed proceedings in that school and across the country.
In Naivasha, a town in Rift Valley province, the polling stations were reported as having abandoned the poll books altogether.
In Nairobi’s sprawling Mathare slum, voting was slow but peaceful.
The process of casting ballots can itself be slow. Kenyans are electing five local representatives in addition to the president, and George Keriako, a security guard who was first in line at Lavington primary school, needed 10 minutes to cast his ballot. Another voter confused the pastel-coloured ballot papers and posted two in the same box, effectively forfeiting one of his votes.
Police officers stood guard close to ballot boxes, a reminder of post-election violence five years ago in which more than 1,100 people were killed and 660,000 displaced after disputed results triggered attacks between ethnic groups.
This time, the state prepared security measures ahead of time, drawing officers from the ranks of prison guards and wildlife wardens for places where police numbers were deemed inadequate.
Trucks filled with security officers patrolled the outskirts of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, an Odinga stronghold.
Charles Owino, police spokesman, told reporters that six people had been killed in two attacks on the coast, at Mombasa and Kilifi, and two people had been killed in a grenade attack in Garissa, in the northeast.
A witness said he saw a man’s body in Mombasa with a knife beside it and a face so bloodied he could not estimate the man’s age.
Latest news and analysis of a presidential election campaign increasingly overshadowed by fears of a new bout of ethnic violence
Police attributed the attacks on the coast to the Mombasa Republican Council, a separatist Islamic terrorist group outlawed by the government that has urged a poll boycott.
However, Justin Willis, an academic who was observing the coastal voting, said “it would be premature to say it’s MRC”. He said he had watched people cast their ballots “peacefully and quietly” throughout Kwale, the MRC heartland south of Mombasa.
The MRC rejected the police allegations. “It’s not true. We have told our members not to commit such violence. Of course it’s propaganda by the government of Kenya,” said the MRC leader Omar Mwamnuadzi, talking via his bodyguard from his home at Kombani on the coast. “We are still having our own boycott, but for those who have registered – they are going to vote.”
The redeployment of police following the attacks delayed the opening of some polling stations by more than four hours.
Kennedy Masime, chairman of ELOG, the 7,000-strong national election observer team, said a late-night Mombasa gun attack was not likely to be the work of the MRC. “Normally, gangs are an infrastructure for use by anybody who has money. I don’t believe it’s MRC,” he said, adding that his observers had confirmed voting in Kwale had been peaceful.
If none of the eight candidates wins an absolute majority, as well as 25 per cent or more in at least 24 out of 47 counties, the presidential contest will proceed to a two-candidate run-off which has been scheduled for mid-April.
By; Katrina Manson