Kenya Declares New President, however Battle Could Not Be Over

NAIROBI, Kenya — On a continent the place army coups and rubber stamp elections have proliferated lately, Kenya stands out.

Regardless of its flaws and endemic corruption, the East African nation and financial powerhouse has steadily grown into an emblem of what’s potential, its democracy underpinned by a robust Structure and its hard-fought elections an instance to different African nations in search of to carve a path away from autocracy.

However Kenya has simply hit a pace bump.

On Monday, a winner was declared in its newest presidential election, ending an unpredictable battle that had tens of millions of Kenyans glued to their televisions and smartphones because the outcomes rolled in. William Ruto, the president-elect, beamed as he addressed a corridor full of roaring supporters, lauding the “very historic, democratic event.”

However the shedding candidate, Raila Odinga, rejected the end result even earlier than it was introduced. A fracas erupted within the corridor the place Mr. Ruto had been talking, and the place the votes had been counted, sending chairs and fists flying. And 4 electoral commissioners stormed out, casting doubt on a end result that’s virtually sure to finish up in courtroom.

And so the election hangs within the stability, scrutinized not simply at dwelling however throughout a continent the place Kenya’s rambunctious democracy is amongst these which can be considered an indicator of progress.

“We shouldn’t have the luxurious to look again, we shouldn’t have the luxurious to level fingers,” Mr. Ruto stated. “We should shut ranks to work collectively.”

It began out as a day of hope.

Early within the morning, a number of thousand individuals started packing into the enormous corridor in a Nairobi suburb to listen to the election outcomes, following an arduous six-day depend that had the nation on tenterhooks.

Mr. Ruto and Mr. Odinga had been neck-and-neck all through the depend, typically separated by as few as 7,000 votes, in keeping with unofficial news media tallies. These razor-thin margins left many nervous: Though its democracy is powerful, Kenya’s elections will be vicious, and its final three contests had been marred by disputed outcomes that led to protracted crises, courtroom instances and road violence that in 2007 killed over 1,200 individuals.

Chastened by these failures, the electoral fee had gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure a clear vote. Inside 24 hours of polls closing final Tuesday night, it had posted to its web site photos displaying the outcomes from almost each polling station — over 46,000 of them.

However as Wafula Chebukati, the chief electoral commissioner, ready to announce the winner on Monday, one in every of Mr. Odinga’s high aides known as an impromptu news convention outdoors.

“This was essentially the most mismanaged election in Kenya’s historical past,” Saitabao Ole Kanchory advised reporters in a flurry of invective that described the counting heart as “a criminal offense scene” and known as on these in cost “to be arrested.”

Moments later, pandemonium erupted contained in the corridor.

Supporters of Mr. Odinga, together with Mr. Ole Kanchory, stormed the dais, throwing chairs on the ground and clashing with safety officers brandishing truncheons. International diplomats and election observers fled to a backstage space — however a choir that had been belting out gospel songs for a lot of the day continued to sing.

As soon as the state of affairs calmed, Mr. Chebukati emerged to ship a brief speech by which he famous that two of his commissioners had been injured within the melee — and others harassed, “arbitrarily arrested” or disappeared — earlier than continuing to announce the outcomes.

Mr. Ruto acquired 50.49 % of votes, he stated, in opposition to 48.85 % for Mr. Odinga, a distinction of simply 233,211 votes however sufficient to keep away from a runoff.

In a speech that appeared supposed to challenge authority and supply reassurance, Mr. Ruto thanked his supporters and voted to work for the great of Kenya. He promised to put aside the bitterness of the marketing campaign — and the chaotic scenes minutes earlier — to focus on the nation’s flailing economic system.

“There isn’t a room for vengeance,” Mr. Ruto stated, flanked by his spouse and by his operating mate, Rigathi Gachagua. “Our nation is at a stage the place we want all arms on deck to maneuver it ahead. We shouldn’t have the luxurious to look again.”

Celebrations erupted within the streets of Eldoret, a stronghold for Mr. Ruto within the Rift Valley, the place there was a deafening cacophony of horns, whistles and chants filling the downtown space.

However in a lot of the nation, his victory was overshadowed by a significant improvement: 4 of the seven electoral commissioners refused to confirm the vote, defying Mr. Chebukati and decamping to a luxurious resort the place they denounced “the opaque nature” of the ultimate part of the depend.

These commissioners, it turned out, had been appointed by Mr. Odinga’s most outstanding ally within the race, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who’s barred by time period limits from operating once more.

Chatting with journalists a couple of hours later, Mr. Ruto dismissed their declaration as a “aspect present.” Below Kenyan legislation, he stated, Mr. Chebukati alone is answerable for declaring the winner.

“Legally, constitutionally, the 4 commissioners pose no risk in any respect to the legality of the declaration,” Mr. Ruto stated.

Nonetheless, the drama instructed {that a} day that ought to have signaled the tip of the presidential contest may find yourself being simply one other chapter within the nail-biter race that has had Kenyans on the sting of their seats for the reason that vote on Tuesday.

The candidates had been a examine in contrasts.

Mr. Odinga, 77, a leftist from one in every of Kenya’s most storied political dynasties, made his first bid for the presidency in 1997. He ran three extra occasions, all the time shedding, earlier than attempting once more this yr.

Though he did as soon as function prime minister, Mr. Odinga’s electoral defeats embodied the broader frustrations of his ethnic group, the Luo, which has by no means managed the Kenyan presidency in all of the years for the reason that nation gained independence from Britain in 1963.

Mr. Ruto, 55, the nation’s vp and a rich businessman, forged himself as champion of Kenya’s “hustler nation” — the disillusioned, largely younger strivers struggling to achieve a foothold. He ceaselessly advised voters about his humble origins, together with a barefoot childhood and an early profession promoting chickens on the aspect of a busy freeway.

That picture contrasted with Mr. Ruto’s appreciable wealth, which has grown throughout his political profession to incorporate a luxurious resort, 1000’s of acres of land and a big poultry processing plant.

Whereas the “hustler” pitch resonated powerfully with some Kenyans, others simply shrugged. Simply 40 % of Kenyans underneath 35 registered to vote on this election, and the 65 % turnout was sharply down from the 80 % reported within the 2017 election.

The low turnout gave the impression to be a rejection of what many noticed as a nasty alternative between candidates from their nation’s discredited political elite.

In voting for Mr. Ruto, tens of millions of Kenyans missed the costs he as soon as confronted on the Worldwide Prison Courtroom, which a decade in the past accused him of whipping up the storm of violence after the 2007 election that just about pushed Kenya right into a civil struggle.

The costs included homicide, persecution and forcing individuals to depart their houses, however the case collapsed in 2016. The Kenyan authorities — Mr. Ruto was vp — engaged in what the courtroom stated was “witness interference and political meddling.”

Mr. Ruto was operating not simply in opposition to Mr. Odinga however, in impact, in opposition to his personal boss, Mr. Kenyatta, whom he accused of betrayal for backing Mr. Odinga.

As a substitute of delivering votes for his chosen successor, Mr. Kenyatta suffered a humiliating rebuke from voters in his heartland, the Mount Kenya area, the place ethnic Kikuyus rejected his allies throughout the board. Even on the polling station the place Mr. Kenyatta forged his vote on Tuesday, Mr. Ruto scored a sweeping majority, the outcomes confirmed.

Debilitating financial troubles supplied a bleak backdrop to Tuesday’s vote. The tourism-reliant economic system has been battered lately, first by the coronavirus pandemic, then by Russia’s assault on Ukraine, which brought on meals and gas costs to rise much more amid a world downturn.

“Maize flour, cooking oil, cooking fuel — all the things goes up,” Abzed Osman, an actor who additionally works in tourism, stated as he stood in line to vote on Tuesday within the Nairobi district of Kibera, Africa’s largest shantytown.

By Monday night in Kisumu County, one in every of Mr. Odinga’s strongholds in western Kenya, tons of of protesters who had been eagerly awaiting the outcomes started demonstrating and burning tires, witnesses stated.

Hours later a spokesman for Mr. Odinga, Dennis Onsarigo, stated the candidate deliberate to deal with the nation on Tuesday.

Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Eldoret.

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