Kenya votes for president amid soaring cost of living

Kenya votes for president amid soaring cost of living

Electoral Commission officials count ballots after polling stations close in Kibera.

Polling stations began to close in Kenya on Tuesday, after an election day to appoint a new president that was largely peaceful amid soaring cost of living. life and a certain disenchantment with the political elite.

At 5 p.m. local time, the sealing of the ballot boxes began in some of the 46,000 polling stations in the territory. Elsewhere, voters still in line were allowed to slip their ballots into the ballot box, however, as were those who faced delays or disruptions.

In total, 22.1 million voters had to vote six times (electing their president, but also their deputies and local elected officials) to determine the political future of this country, locomotive economic hub of East Africa and seen as a democratic island in a volatile region – but which itself was the scene of violence and electoral disputes.

For the presidential election, the duel promises to be tight between the two main candidates, important figures in the political landscape. Raila Odinga, 77, a veteran of the government-backed opposition, takes on William Ruto, 55, a vice president who stands as a challenger.

This election is different from others, she is calm and peaceful, says Joyce Kosgei, 52, a voter in Kosachei, a village in the Rift Valley, an area that was once at the epicenter of unrest.

Festive in Kisumu (west), a stronghold of Odinga, the mood was calm elsewhere, notably in Nairobi, where the usually bustling streets were almost deserted on this declared holiday.

Across this country where voting is traditionally early in the morning, long queues had formed before dawn and the opening of polling stations at 6 a.m.

An Electoral Commission official chats with a Kenyan policeman wearing riot gear in Nairobi.

Among the thousands of observers deployed, Ivan Stefanec, head of the European Union observation mission, found that there were many many people queuing patiently, according to him, a sign that democracy works.

In the afternoon, the wait seemed shorter.

The Electoral Commission announced that 56.1% of voters had voted by 4 p.m. local time.< /p>

If neither of the two opponents, who know each other well having been allies in the past, does not obtain more than 50% of the vote, Kenya will know for the very first time a second round in a presidential election.

Whatever the outcome, the new president will make history by not belonging to the Kikuyu community, the largest in the country, which has controlled the top of the state for 20 years. and from which comes the outgoing Uhuru Kenyatta – whom the Constitution prevented from running again after two terms.

Mr. Odinga, allied with Mr. Kenyatta since a surprise pact in 2018, is a Luo, while Mr. Ruto is a Kalenjin, two other important communities.

A voter casts his vote in a ballot box in Kibera.

In this country historically marked by the tribal vote, some experts believe that this factor could fade in the face of economic stakes, as the soaring cost of living dominates the minds of the approximately 50 million inhabitants.

The pandemic, then the war in Ukraine as well as a record drought, have hit this heavyweight on the continent hard, which despite dynamic growth (7.5% in 2021) remains very corrupt and unequal.

< p class="e-p">William Ruto has hammered home his ambition to reduce the cost of living. Raila Odinga promised to make Kenya a vibrant and global economy.

Historically, the ethnic component has fueled electoral disputes, such as in 2007-2008, when Mr. Odinga's contestation of the results led to inter-communal clashes that killed more than 1,100 people. Fifteen years have passed since this violence, but their specter continues to hover.

In 2017, dozens of people died in the repression of demonstrations.

People should not disrupt [the vote]. Vote, go home and relax, called 23-year-old student Ibrahim Ahmed Hussein in Kibera.

Rare incidents have been reported across the country, where some 150,000 security officers have been deployed. A demonstration was dispersed with tear gas in the county of Nakuru (west) while the election was postponed due to gunshots the day before in a constituency of Wajir (east), near Somalia.

The Electoral Commission, under extreme pressure because of widespread criticism in 2017, admitted failures of biometric kits it uses for voter identification, in 200 polling stations out of a total of 46,000.

This is not a widespread failure. Technology breaks down and when it does, we have ways to fix it, said Justus Nyang'aya, one of the commissioners.

In this country marked by suspicion of fraud, diplomatic sources have pointed to the crucial issue of speed in the publication of results. The Commission has until August 16 to announce them.

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