Kenya’s presidential race has tightened as Uhuru Kenyatta’s lead narrowed over his main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, raising the prospect of a second-round run-off.
A final result was expected on Friday, but the close race and a troubled vote count are sparking fears of the kind of violence that ripped through the country after its last national election in 2007.
With just over a quarter of constituencies still to report results, Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister, was hovering around the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
As of 0545 GMT, Kenyatta had won 4.7 million votes compared to his rival Odinga’s 4.1 million, with as many as three-quarters of Kenya’s 14.3 million registered voters estimated to have cast a ballot.
If no candidate achieves 50 percent in the first round, the top two go to a run-off tentatively set for April. But the Kenyatta and Odinga camps have both raised questions about the vote process, so legal battles could push that date back.
Turnout was estimated by election officials at more than 70 percent of the eligible voters, who were undeterred by pockets of violence that killed at least 15 people.
Kenyatta, 51, who is due to go on trial at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity linked to the violent aftermath of the last election, had led since results started trickling in after polls closed on Monday.
Despite the delays and technical glitches, international observers have broadly said the vote and count were transparent.
The tallying process – now entering its fourth day – has been marred by allegations from both sides, including charges by Odinga’s party that results had been “doctored”.
The political coalition led by Odinga, currently running in second, called for a stop to a tallying process it said “lacked integrity”.
The statement by Odinga’s running mate Kalonzo Musyoka said the counting process should be restarted using primary documents from polling stations, but the election commission insisted there was no way to doctor the results.
Kenyatta’s party has also raised concerns over the slow-moving vote count, complaining that the inclusion of spoiled ballots in the overall total could potentially tip the balance in favour of a second round.
Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, said the count would not stop and said the vote tally was genuine.
The European Union ambassador to Kenya, Lodewijk Briet, said the vote-counting was sound and should be allowed to continue. The poll is seen as a critical test for East Africa’s largest economy, whose reputation as a stable democracy was damaged by the bloodshed that followed the last election in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
Much will rest on whether the final result is accepted, and whether any challenges take place in the courts or on the streets. Though Musyoka, Odinga’s running mate, said his party’s challenge to the vote count was not a call for mass action and urged voters to stay calm and patient.