Kenya’s election commission was preparing to release final results Friday from a hotly-disputed vote in which the opposition has already claimed victory, fanning tensions in the east African nation.
The National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition coalition on Thursday demanded its candidate Raila Odinga be declared president, claiming massive fraud was behind preliminary results that placed him far behind incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta.
US Ambassador Bob Godec joined foreign observers in urging parties to give the election commission (IEBC) space to finish its job and use legal means to deal with their grievances.
“Violence must never be an option. No Kenyan should die because of an election. Kenya’s future is more important than any election. Leaders above all need to make that clear,” Godec said.
Opposition strongholds were calm Friday just hours before the final result is due, after pockets of protests in the western city of Kisumu and Nairobi slums, where police shot two protesters dead on Wednesday.
But memories are still raw of a disputed poll that led to two months of ethno-political violence in 2007-8, leaving 1,100 dead and displacing 600,000.
Foreign observers praised a peaceful, credible voting process, but the mood quickly turned sour when Odinga rejected the results after only a few hours of counting.
Odinga first complained the electronically transmitted results were not being backed up by the required forms.
He later unveiled details of an alleged hacking attack to manipulate results.
NASA then doubled down with a claim the election commission (IEBC) was concealing results contained on its server that, it said, showed Odinga to be the winner.
“We demand that the IEBC chairperson announce the presidential election results forthwith and declare Raila Amolo Odinga… as the duly elected president,” said one of NASA’s leaders, Musalia Mudavadi.
The charge ratcheted up tensions that have seen Kenya on a go-slow since voting day on Tuesday, with many businesses shut, civil servants staying at home and streets largely empty.
“Any attempts to pressurise the IEBC, as being witnessed, are irregular, and … may stoke the flames in an already tense situation. We have said before, and reiterate, that any candidate with grievances pursue established avenues of redress,” the Daily Nation said in an editorial.
While veteran opposition leader Odinga, 72, also claimed polls in 2013 were stolen from him, he took his grievances to the courts and ended up accepting his loss.
“We do not want to see any violence in Kenya. We know the consequences of what happened in 2008 and we don’t want to see a repeat of that,” Odinga told CNN in an interview.
But he repeated his assertion that “I don’t control anybody. People want to see justice.”
Kenyatta looked set for victory, with 8 million votes to Odinga’s 6.7 million, according to the IEBC public website whose results are being cross-checked against polling forms from constituencies.
However, NASA provided documents purportedly obtained from IEBC servers via a “confidential source” showing that Odinga had 8.04 million votes, leading Kenyatta on 7.75 million.
IEBC chief Wafula Chebukati responded to the NASA claims, detailing that their “evidence” was riddled with arithmetical errors and came from a Microsoft database, while the electoral commission’s system was running on Oracle.
The IEBC insists its electronic voting system — seen as key to avoiding fraud — was not compromised.
Former US secretary of state John Kerry, leading an observer team from the Carter Center, expressed confidence in the IEBC on Thursday.
“We believe the IEBC put in place a detailed, transparent process of voting, counting, reporting and securing the vote, all of which lends significant credibility and accountability,” Kerry told journalists.
Before the election the race between Odinga and Kenyatta was seen as too close to call.
It was billed as the final showdown between the two men whose fathers Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga were allies in the struggle for independence, but later became bitter rivals, setting the stage for decades of political rancour.
While all eyes have been on the presidential vote, local elections have also sparked tensions with Kenyan media reporting protests and clashes between supporters of candidates in the five other positions up for grabs in various parts of the country.
At least 20 incumbent governors have lost their jobs, including Evans Kidero who had won Nairobi for the opposition in 2013.
And three women won governor seats — a first for the country which has one of the worst records in east Africa for female representation in politics.