Rigging allegations begin as Kenyan media slows vote count in tight presidential race

NAIROBI, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Without providing any evidence, the chief executive of Kenya’s ruling party said the country’s election was rigged, stoking public anxiety on Friday as the media dramatically slowed its unofficial tally of the presidential vote.

Only the electoral commission is authorized to declare a winner, but the tallies have been seen as a bulwark against the kind of rigging allegations that previously sparked the violence.

Kenya, the wealthiest and most stable nation in East Africa, has a history of violent electoral disputes. More than 1,200 people were killed after the 2007 elections and more than 100 after the 2017 elections.

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So far, the polls have been generally welcomed by international observers, but problems usually arise after the results are announced.

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta is due to step down after serving the constitutional maximum of two five-year terms. His potential successors are former political prisoner and opposition veteran Raila Odinga and Vice President William Ruto. Kenyatta fell out with Ruto and endorsed Odinga.

RIGGING CLAIM

Late Thursday, the chairman of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party issued a statement alleging “massive subtle rigging” and claiming that “the electoral process has been severely compromised” after Ruto’s party gave a strong demonstration in an area where the dominant ethnicity is the same as Kenyatta.

The statement alleged voter intimidation, corruption, illegal display of campaign materials at polling stations, mismanagement of party agents and improper use of election materials. She provided no evidence and did not explain why the allegations were made so late. Party officials were unreachable for comment.

Previous elections have been largely determined by ethnic voting blocs. But Ruto has sought to make this election on the economy, portraying himself as a self-made “con man” in contrast to political “dynasties.” Odinga and Kenyatta are the sons of Kenya’s First Vice President and First President respectively.

Ian Dan, parcel service attendant at the main bus park in Odinga stronghold in Kisumu, said business was very slow.

“We’re in the dark and it’s not good for us. People are anxious and need to have a clear picture,” he said. “There are allegations of robbery rigging on social media, but a lot of people are waiting to hear from Raila Odinga or William Ruto. Their word will influence people’s reaction.”

MEDIA SLOWDOWN

Media tallies, which had come to a near halt on Friday morning, showed the two leading contenders neck and neck, just below the 50% mark they needed to win. Less than one percent was split between two other fringe candidates.

If no candidate obtains more than 50% plus one vote, the two favorites will have a second round.

The electoral commission is the only body legally authorized to declare a winner. It initially uploaded images of results forms from more than 46,000 polling stations, but did not count them. Instead, media houses have employed teams to download forms and enter them into a database.

Over 99.7% of polling station results are known but thousands have not been counted by the media. The sharp slowdown began when around 80% of the votes had been counted.

Prominent Kenyan columnist and cartoonist Patrick Gathara slammed the slowdown, tweeting: “So once again KE media has chickened out and stopped updating their counts? It was too good to last.”

But executives at media groups Citizen and Nation said exhausted staff needed a rest.

“We now have about a third of the people we started with and we intend to pick up the pace in the coming hours when the rest of the team returns,” said Linus Kaikai, chief strategy officer at Citizen. .

Nation Media Group CEO Stephen Gitagama said his staff also needed rest and were focusing on quality control. He referred Reuters to the electoral commission, known as the IEBC.

“The IEBC has the responsibility to deliver the results, not the media,” he said.

By Friday morning, the electoral commission had finally begun posting an official tally of presidential results on a board at the main counting center. He had counted 1.5% of the votes.

As of 0730 GMT, a Reuters tally of 180 out of 291 results at constituency level had Ruto leading by 51.66% and Odinga by 47.69%. Eleven ward-level result images were unreadable or missing totals.

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Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie in Eldoret; Editing by Toby Chopra

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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