NAIROBI, Kenya — As outcomes poured in from Kenya’s cliffhanger presidential election, patrons at a restaurant in Eldoret, 150 miles north of Nairobi, the capital, stared up at six tv screens on Thursday night time that have been exhibiting the competing tallies by Kenyan information media shops.
With 90 p.c of the votes tallied, the 2 foremost contenders, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, have been only some thousand votes aside. Every had about 49 p.c of the vote.
“Individuals are so tense,” mentioned Kennedy Orangi, a hospital nurse brandishing two cellphones, “that they can not even suppose straight.”
Then the tallies floor to a halt.
Instantly, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans, who had been glued to their televisions, radios and telephones since Tuesday’s vote, have been at the hours of darkness concerning the newest outcomes of a neck-and-neck presidential race that has gripped the nation, and is being scrutinized far past.
On Friday, Kenyan information organizations gave varied explanations for stopping their counts, together with fears of hacking and a want to “synchronize” their outcomes.
However to many Kenyans, it appeared they bought chilly ft and shied away from having to declare the winner in a high-stakes political battle that pits Mr. Ruto, the nation’s vice chairman, in opposition to Mr. Odinga, a political veteran making his fifth run for the presidency.
Now, voters must proceed their nail-biting wait. Officers say it can possible be Sunday, on the earliest, earlier than the election fee can declare an official winner within the race — and to know whether or not both candidate can move the 50 p.c threshold wanted to keep away from a runoff.
The stakes on this election are excessive for Kenya, an East African powerhouse with a current historical past of turbulent elections. Nevertheless it additionally reverberates past, as a litmus check for democracy at a time when authoritarianism is advancing throughout Africa, and the globe.
“Kenya is an anchor for stability, safety and democracy — not simply within the area, or on this continent, however throughout the globe,” the embassies of america and 13 different Western nations mentioned in an announcement on the eve of the election.
Seared by criticism of its failings in earlier votes, the nationwide election fee went to nice lengths to make this an exemplary election.
With a finances of over $370 million, one of many highest per voter prices on this planet, the fee sourced printed paper ballots from Europe that had extra security measures than Kenya’s foreign money notes. It deployed biometric know-how to establish voters by their fingerprints and pictures.
The election fee “has carried out a really skilled job,” mentioned Johnnie Carson, a former U.S. ambassador to Kenya who’s serving as an election observer. The biometric system “labored higher than many individuals anticipated and has proved to be a helpful mannequin to construct on.”
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The fee started posting on-line outcomes from over 46,000 polling stations inside hours of the polls closing on Tuesday, a transfer of radical transparency supposed to keep off fears of potential vote rigging.
However within the counting, issues haven’t gone solely to plan.
The election fee’s choice to publish the outcomes on-line — permitting the information media to do the primary, unofficial tally of the outcomes — has proved to be problematic. Media organizations tallied in several sequences, resulting in conflicting experiences of who was forward.
That drew criticism from worldwide and native observers just like the Kenya Human Rights Fee, which mentioned that divergent tallies have been causing “confusion, nervousness, worry, unrest.”
Because the numbers rolled in, it grew to become clear the race between Mr. Ruto and Mr. Odinga was far tighter than most Kenyans anticipated. Heading into the election on Tuesday, a number of polls confirmed Mr. Odinga with a cushty lead.
After the election, the fee’s official depend was sluggish, as a result of ballot employees needed to transport paper outcome sheets from the 46,229 polling websites to the nationwide counting heart in Nairobi. Then fee employees needed to confirm the papers in opposition to the net database of photographs of the identical sheets.
These delays meant that by Thursday night time it was turning into clear that the primary indication of a winner would possible come from the information media — not the election fee — a politically delicate transfer in a rustic the place the media may be topic to heavy-handed authorities interference.
Felix Odhiambo Owuor, government director of the Electoral Regulation and Governance Institute for Africa, a nonprofit that helped draft pointers for the information media’s function within the election, mentioned in an interview the media teams pulled out to keep away from a tough state of affairs.
“I believe they only determined it was higher to attend” for Kenya’s electoral fee “to catch up,” he mentioned.
Others pointed to direct authorities strain to finish the depend. Three reporters with the Nation Media Group, talking on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate inner issues, mentioned authorities officers had pressured their editors to cease the tallying as a result of, they have been instructed, it was creating confusion among the many public.
On Friday, in an article within the Nation newspaper, Mutuma Mathiu, editor in chief of the Nation Media Group, described what a tough job the tallying had turn out to be.
“We’re not simply tallying figures. We’re additionally making an attempt to maintain protected, and open, not bankrupt ourselves, keep out of the clutches of affect teams and supply good, clear information,” he wrote.
In an announcement, David Omwoyo, the top of the federal government’s Media Council of Kenya mentioned that “Nobody has requested anybody to cease the tallying and projection of the outcomes.”
The one unofficial tallies have been being carried out by overseas information organizations — the BBC and a joint effort by Reuters and Google. However they have been based mostly on a set of constituency outcomes that, as of midnight on Friday, was solely 75 p.c full.
That would go away Kenyans ready for the ultimate outcomes, to search out out who’s their subsequent president, or if the nation is headed for a runoff and should repeat the entire anxious train one month from now.
Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Eldoret, Kenya.