Millions turn out to vote in critical Kenyan elections
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Millions of Kenyans flocked to polling stations Monday to cast their ballots in one of the most critical and complicated elections in the East African nation’s history, undaunted by the post-electoral bloodshed after the disputed 2007 polls.
reporting from Kenya
Millions of voters joined huge lines outside polling stations across Kenya on Monday in a concerted display of faith in the democratic process for the first elections since the disputed 2007 elections and its deadly aftermath.
In some urban areas, the lines formed before dawn as many Kenyans, eager to vote in one of the country’s most critical elections, arrived with voter registration and ID cards in hand.
At 6am sharp in the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera, a cry went up from the crowd and vuvuzelas sounded as polls opened at the Olympic primary school. Some of the voters had even begun gathering from around 10pm the previous night.
By noon, the lines were still snaking across the Kibera Social Grounds and hours later, as the clock ticked toward the 6pm poll closing time, vendors had set up a lively business of selling bottled water and umbrellas to help voters beat the equatorial heat.
And still the lines snaked on.
Voting was extended past the 6pm closing time at a number of polling stations, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), to enable voters to cast their ballots in a complicated general election that included several races.
Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi late Monday, Issack Hassan, chairman of the IEBC, said voting was expected to end by Monday night and that results of the historic poll may be out Tuesday.
With voting still going on at some polling stations, Hassan said the voter turnout at 5pm was more than 70%. That figure was expected to rise as additional polling information streams in.
Monday’s vote was the first since a new constitution was introduced in 2010 in an attempt to prevent the crisis that followed the December 2007 elections. More than 1,000 people were killed and over 600,000 displaced in the 2007-2008 post-electoral bloodbath.
Under the new constitution, Kenyans were electing a president, governors, senators, parliament members, county representatives and other officials to a new federal government structure.
Ballot papers and boxes were colour-coded for each of the races to help voters pick their local and national representatives.
Despite the complicated process, Carolina Aumaotio, a 22-year-old mother of two children, said she found the system easy.
“No problem,” Aumaotio said, beaming as her baby, wrapped and tied to her shoulder, slept soundly through the noise in the tiny Kibera voting room.
Odinga votes, expresses confidence
Kibera experienced some of the country’s worst violence after the December 2007 elections as the disputed results opened ethnic fault lines as deep as the Great Rift Valley.
It was also the place where leading presidential candidate Raila Odinga cast his vote early Monday at the Old Kibera Primary School, amid tight security.
Speaking to reporters shortly after voting, Odinga said he was “confident that we will win this election in the first round. I am sure that Kenyans will today express their confidence in us.”
Odinga and his main presidential rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, have been running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls in the weeks before the elections, and while most Kenyans would prefer to avoid a runoff, the chances of a victor in the first round seem remote.
A presidential candidate has to win 50% of the votes and at least 25% of the votes cast in not less than 24 counties.
President Mwai Kibaki steps down this year after serving two terms in office. But the spectre of his disastrous 2007 re-election bid -- and its aftermath -- still haunts this country, threatening the stability of East Africa’s “anchor state” and potentially placing the darling of Western donor nations on a collision course with the international community.
Kenyatta, who is running for president, is one of four Kenyans facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged roles in orchestrating the post-electoral violence. His running mate, William Ruto, also faces crimes of humanity charges at The Hague.
Tight security, sporadic attacks
Security was tightened Monday, with more than 99,000 police officers deployed across the country and over 7,000 senior police officers supervising the elections.
Hours before the polls opened, a group of heavily armed men attacked a police post in the port city of Mombasa, killing at least 10 people, including two police officers, according to Kenyan police officials.
According to Kenyan police officials, the attack was conducted by the MRC (Mombasa Republican Council) a separatist group that had threatened Election Day attacks.
But speaking to FRANCE 24, senior Kenyan analyst Abdullahi Halakhe advised caution about attributing the attacks to the MRC.
“My worry is that the MRC is being used as a bogeyman,” said Halake. “There are many rival and splinter groups that counter the MRC and it could be an opportunistic group.”
There were also reports of bombs exploding at two polling stations in the remote town of Mandera near the border with Somalia and Ethiopia, according to Red Cross officials.
In Kitengela, a town south of Nairobi, at least 20 people were hospitalized after a stampede at a polling station, according to a local TV station.
Despite the heightened security fears, most Kenyans express faith and optimism in the democratic system.
“I was never interested in politics. When my father used to go to vote, I would say, ‘why are you voting? Nothing changes.’ But now I want to vote,” said James Otieno, a Kibera resident.
“They say if you participate in voting, you participate in the democracy of your country and I want to participate in the democracy of my country.”
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