Kenya’s president has been re-elected with more than 98% of the vote—but a political stand-off persists

On for a second term.
On for a second term.
Image: Reuters/Siegfried Modola
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President Uhuru Kenyatta has been declared the winner of the Oct. 26 repeat elections by a landslide, granting him a second term in office. The election commission said that Kenyatta had garnered over 98% of the vote, a total of 7.4 million votes.

But rather than the result bringing a close to nearly a year of campaigning and electioneering, Kenya finds itself at the beginning of a new phase of political uncertainty which threatens to tip over into violence in certain regions of the country.

The overwhelming vote in favor of Kenyatta was expected after opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrew from the race in early October. Odinga and his supporters boycotted the election after accusing the commission of stonewalling meaningful reforms that would have ensured they didn’t repeat some of the “irregularities and illegalities” committed in the Aug. 8 polls. Those indiscretions led the supreme court to nullify the results of the presidential election on Sept. 1, a first in Africa.

The turnout was low across the country, given that more than 80% of the registered 19.6 million voters participated in the August election. Elections were also indefinitely canceled in four counties aligned with Odinga, where officials couldn’t open polling stations. Despite refusing to participate, more than 73,000 people voted for Odinga in the election run-off.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was again put on the spot for the way it tallied and verified the results. On Sunday (Oct. 29), IEBC announced that 7.5 million had so far voted, and provided a voter turnout of 42.8%—instead of 38.4%. At one point, commissioner Abdi Guliye also said that results had come in from some of the constituencies where elections didn’t even take place.

If no petition is filed against the results of the election, a swearing-in ceremony for Kenyatta is expected to take place 14 days after the declaration as per the constitution. Yet, government authorities and supporters of Kenyatta have been calling for the president to be immediately sworn in as delays will cause instability. Opposition figures have also threatened to swear in Odinga if Uhuru is sworn in.

Kenyatta’s win comes after days of protests and killings in the capital Nairobi and in western Kenya. In the Kawangware neighborhood of Nairobi, homes and businesses were torched, as rival groups clashed and anti-riot police were deployed to disperse them. In the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, the police carried a “deliberate campaign” to “intimidate and punish residents” in order to quell protests, according to Amnesty International. The grim outlook over the weekend threatened to tip into ethnic disputes, and to further plunge the country into the uncertainty and violence that followed the 2007 dispute poll.

The announcement, however, doesn’t mark the end of this period of risk and apprehension in Kenya. Odinga has already promised to conduct civil disobedience across the country, and to use legal means to challenge the results and the legitimacy of the Kenyatta government. Already, one case is pending at the supreme court challenging Kenyatta’s win: activist Okiya Omtatah has filed a case seeking to nullify the repeat election.

The US ambassador to Kenya called on security services to exercise restraint, and asked for calm in the following days. “We again urge that there be an immediate, sustained, open, and transparent national dialogue involving all Kenyans to resolve the deep divisions that the electoral process has exacerbated.”