By Tanya Willmer and Hillary Orinde
Deputy President William Ruto was Monday declared winner of Kenya’s hard-fought presidential poll but the announcement was mired in controversy after several members of the election commission rejected the results.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati said Ruto had won almost 7.18 million votes (50.49 percent) in the August 9 vote, against 6.94 million (48.85 percent) for his rival Raila Odinga.
“I stand before you despite intimidation and harrassment. I have done my duty according to the laws of the land,” Chebukati said.
“In accordance with the law, I… hereby declare that Ruto William Samoei has been duly elected as the president.”
Shortly before his announcement, four out of seven IEBC commissioners said they could not recognise the results, raising rigging fears in the closely-watched poll in the East African political and economic powerhouse.
Ruto is a 55-year-old rags-to-riches businessman who had characterised the vote as a battle between ordinary “hustlers” and “dynasties” who had ruled Kenya since independence from Britain in 1963.
After the results were announced, he vowed to work with “all leaders” in Kenya.
“There is no room for vengeance,” Ruto said, adding: “I am acutely aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck.”
The outcome was a bitter blow for Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader who had the weight of the ruling party behind him after forging a 2018 pact with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in a stunning shift of allegiances.
The days-long wait for the outcome of the race had already set the East African nation on edge.
But in a shock announcement, IEBC vice chair Juliana Cherera told reporters that she and three of her colleagues could not “take ownership of the result that will be announced,” calling the process “opaque”.
“However we have an open door that people can go to court and because of the same we urge Kenyans to be peaceful because the rule of the law is going to prevail,” she added.
As confusion reigned, scuffles broke out at the IEBC’s heavily guarded national tallying centre in Nairobi, where some people were seen throwing chairs shortly before Chebukati’s announcement.
Although last Tuesday’s poll passed off largely peacefully in the regional political and economic powerhouse, memories of vote-rigging and deadly violence in 2007-08 and 2017 still loom large.
The IEBC had been under intense pressure to deliver a clean election after it faced stinging criticism of its handling of the 2017 election.
Kenyans voted in six elections to choose a new president as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, women representatives and some 1,500 county officials.
Kenyatta, the 60-year-old son of the first post-independence president, has served two terms and could not run again.
The winner of the presidential race needed to secure 50 percent plus one vote and at least a quarter of the votes in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties.
Observers say that with the race so close, an appeal to the Supreme Court by losing candidate Odinga is almost certain, meaning it could be many weeks before a new president takes office.
Turnout on polling day was lower than expected at around 65 percent of Kenya’s 22 million registered voters, compared with about 78 percent in the last election in 2017.
Observers blamed disenchantment with the political elite, particularly among young people in a country battling a severe cost-of-living crisis and a punishing drought that has left millions hungry.
Lawyer David Mwaure – one of the four presidential candidates along with former spy George Wajackoyah – conceded on Sunday, endorsing Ruto, whose party won a key gubernatorial race when Johnson Sakaja secured control of Nairobi, Kenya’s richest city.
In a historic first for Africa, the result of the 2017 election was annulled by the Supreme Court after Odinga challenged the outcome.
Dozens of people were killed in the chaos that followed the election, with police brutality blamed for the deaths.
Kenyatta went on to win the October rerun after a boycott by Odinga.
The worst electoral violence in Kenya’s history occurred after a disputed vote in 2007, when more than 1,100 people were killed in bloodletting between rival tribes.