Nearly a week after the Kenyan elections were held, sitting Deputy President William Ruto was declared the winner on Monday (August 15) amidst questions on the validity of the results and fears of violent protests.
“William Samoei Ruto has been duly elected as the President of the Republic of Kenya,” announced the country’s Election Commission Chief Wafula Chebukati on Monday.
According to local media, while Ruto bagged 7,176,141 votes, his closest rival Raila Odinga received 6,942,930. The other two candidates in the fray, David Mwaure and George Wajackoyah, got 31,987 and 61,969 votes, respectively, reported Kenya-based The Standard.
However, news of the results did not go down smoothly. Videos on social media showed chaos at an election centre in the capital city of Nairobi after the results were announced. Protesters were seen dismantling the lectern on stage and upturning chairs before security pushed them back and re-assembled the lectern.
In his first speech as the President-elect, Ruto promised to run a “transparent, open, democratic government” and work with the opposition “to the extent that they provide oversight” over his administration. “There is no room for vengeance. There is no room for looking back. We are looking into the future,” he added.
This seems unlikely. Late on Tuesday, Odinga rejected the election results as a “travesty”. “Our view is that the figures announced by Chebukati are null and void and must be quashed by a court of law,” he said, as per a Reuters report.
Odinga, who was leading the opinion polls, is widely expected to challenge the verdict in Kenya’s Supreme Court. This is mainly due to two reasons – the narrow margin of victory, and the public dissent within the Election Commission regarding the results.
As per the chief of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), 55-year-old Ruto scored 50.49 per cent of the votes while Odinga clocked in 48.85 per cent. Kenyan presidents are chosen by direct elections in which the winner requires more than 50% of the total votes and over 25% of votes in 24 of the 47 counties. The slim margin between the two candidates has sparked debate on the accuracy of the results.
In addition to this, four members of the seven-member Election Commission on Monday publicly distanced themselves from the final results citing opaqueness in the process.
“The four of us are here and not at Bomas of Kenya (a village in Nairobi), where results will be announced, because of the opaque nature of how this phase has been handled. We, therefore, cannot take ownership of the results that will be announced. 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,” IEBC Vice Chairperson Juliana Cherera was quoted as saying by The Standard.
The IEBC chairman dismissed the allegations.
For Odinga, this is a chance to assume the President’s post after four previous defeats in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017, while for Ruto, it’s the prospect of going against the establishment that supported Odinga, said X N Iraki, a Kenyan economist and columnist, in an email to The Indian Express. “It seems the commission was sucked into these high-stakes games,” he added.
Furthermore, a missing IEBC election official was found dead on Tuesday, triggering suspicions of foul play. Local media reported that he was last seen alive on August 11 morning and disappeared while on duty as the returning officer. The police chief told local media the body showed signs of torture before death. More details on this are awaited.
A repeat of 2007?
Along with the results, reports of protests are trickling in. An AFP report said Odinga’s supporters clashed with the police in his stronghold of Kisumu and two slums in Nairobi after the announcement.
Onlookers are wary of a repeat of 2007, when post-election protests led to large-scale civil unrest, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,100 people and displacing thousands, according to Human Rights Watch. After the 2017 elections, too, at least 24 people were killed and hundreds injured in a police crackdown on protesters.
However, Kenya’s National Security Advisory Committee said this time, the country remains “peaceful and secure.”
“The Security Advisory Committee wishes to assure all Kenyans and all other persons’ resident in our nation that the government has and continues to take all necessary measures to ensure that the entirety of the country is safe and secure,” said committee chief Joseph Kinyua, as per a report in The Standard.
Iraki told The Indian Express large-scale protests are unlikely as Odinga will not want to be labelled as a trouble-maker. Besides, the sort of economic uncertainty that accompanies widespread protests is the last thing that is needed for an economy already affected by Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war, he added.
The US Embassy in Nairobi, in a statement, acknowledged Ruto’s electoral victory and urged “all parties to work together to peacefully resolve any remaining concerns about this election through existing dispute resolution mechanisms.”
So, what next?
A legal challenge appears imminent.
The losing candidates have the option of challenging the results in Kenya’s Supreme Court, which can either dismiss the petition or annul the vote. If it dismisses the challenge, the winner can take office within two weeks after the announcement of the result. Otherwise, the elections have to be held afresh within 60 days.
If none of the candidates approach the court, Ruto will be sworn in as Kenya’s fifth president on August 30, as per local media reports.
As for the election’s impact on the global order, including India, Iraki said the hope is that no major world power would take sides on the issue and that the country’s institutions like the Supreme Court would be up to the task. “Kenya is seen as a model in Africa and this event could tarnish its image. Our key trading partners like India, the UK and China could feel the impact,” he he, adding that Indian investors in Kenya could be affected by any uncertainty.
For now, though, it is business as usual. The IEBC has gazetted Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua as president-elect and deputy president-elect, respectively. Ruto is scheduled to receive a security briefing from security organisations, including the Kenyan Defence Forces and the National Police Service.