NAIROBI, Kenya – According to results from Kenya’s dramatic presidential election, patrons at a restaurant in Eldoret, 150 miles north of the capital Nairobi, stared at six television screens late into the night. Thursdays are showing competitive Kenyan news media coverage .
With 90% of the votes counted, the two main candidates, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, are only a few thousand votes apart. Each got about 49% of the vote.
Kennedy Orangi, a hospital nurse brandishing two cell phones, said: “People are so stressed out that they can’t even think straight.”
Then the roof tallies stopped.
Suddenly, millions of Kenyans, who had been glued to their televisions, radios and phones since Tuesday’s vote, were in the dark over the latest outcome of the protracted presidential race. the whole country and is under much more scrutiny.
On Friday, Kenyan news organizations offered a variety of explanations for their stop counting, including their fear of being hacked and their desire to “synchronize” their results.
But for many Kenyans, it seems like they have cold-footed and avoided declaring a winner in a high-stakes political battle that pits Mr Ruto, the country’s vice president, against Mr Odinga. , a political veteran running for the fifth time. for the presidency.
Now, voters must keep waiting to bite their nails. Officials said it is likely as early as Sunday, before the election commission can declare the official winner of the race – and to know if either candidate can cross the 50 threshold. % needed to avoid flow or not.
The the stakes in this election are very high for Kenya, an East African power with a tumultuous recent electoral history. But it resonates beyond that, as a test of democracy at a time when authoritarianism is evolving across Africa and globally.
“Kenya is an anchor for stability, security and democracy – not only in the region or on this continent but globally,” the US embassies and 13 other Western countries said in a statement. announced before the election.
Criticized by its failures in previous elections, the national election commission worked hard to make it a model election.
With a budget of more than $370 million, one of the highest cost per voter in the world, the committee sources printed European paper ballots that have more security features than Kenyan notes. It has deployed biometric technology to identify voters with their fingerprints and pictures.
Johnnie Carson, a former US ambassador to Kenya who serves as an election observer, said the “Electoral Commission has “done a very professional job”. The biometric system “worked better than many anticipated and has proven to be a useful model to build on.”
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The commission began posting online results from more than 46,000 polling stations within hours of the vote ending on Tuesday, a move to radically transparently stave off concerns about possible voter fraud. elected.
But when it comes to counting, things still haven’t quite gone to plan.
The election commission’s decision to post results online – allowing the news media to do the first, informal tally of results – has proven problematic. Media organizations have calculated in different sequences, leading to conflicting reports about who came first.
That has drawn criticism from international and local observers such as the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which argues that the different signs are cause “Confusion, anxiety, fear, uncertainty.”
As the numbers increased, it became clear that the race between Mr. Ruto and Mr. Odinga was much tighter than most Kenyans predict. Heading into Tuesday’s election, several polls have given Mr Odinga a comfortable lead.
After the election, official committee counting was slow, as poll workers had to transport paper ballots from 46,229 polling stations to the national counting center in Nairobi. The committee staff then had to verify the papers against an online database of pictures of the same plates.
Those delays meant that on Thursday night it was clear the first indication of a winner could come from the news media – not the election commission – a move that is sensitive about political side in a country where the media can subject to strong government intervention.
Felix Odhiambo Owuor, executive director of the African Institute of Electoral Law and Governance, a nonprofit that helped draft guidelines on the role of the press in elections, said in an interview that Communication groups have drawn to avoid a difficult situation.
“I think they just decided it was better to wait for” Kenya’s electoral commission “to catch up,” he said.
Others pointed out that there was direct pressure from the government to end the counting of votes. Three Nation Media Group reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters, said government officials pressured their editors to stop the tally because they was told that it was creating panic among the public.
On Friday, in a Article in Nation newspaperMutuma Mathiu, editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group, describes how tallying has become a daunting task.
“We don’t just tally the numbers. We are also trying to stay safe and open, not self-destructive, stay out of the clutches of influence groups, and provide good, clear data,” he wrote.
In one statement“Nobody is asking anyone to stop counting and predicting results,” said David Omwoyo, head of the Kenyan government’s Communications Council.
The only unofficial reporting is carried out by foreign news organizations – the BBC and a joint effort of Reuters and Google. But they are based on a set of election results that, as of midnight on Friday, were only 75 percent complete.
That could leave Kenyans waiting for the final results, to find out who their next president is, or if the country is headed for a spill and will have to repeat the whole anxiety exercise. a month from now.
Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Eldoret, Kenya.