We have a winner in Kenya

It took five days of counting, but Kenya finally has a new president-elect: Uhuru Kenyatta, of the Jubilee coalition, was victorious on the first round, beating three-time candidate (and outgoing prime minister) Raila Odinga and six other candidates. Official results from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are available here.

I rely a lot on the BBC, but it hasn’t covered itself with glory recently on election reporting. The teaser for its top African story today says that Kenyatta was “declared winner of the presidential election by the smallest of margins.” But that’s dangerously misleading. (For some previous BBC problems, see here and here.)

Kenyatta’s margin of victory was about 833,000 votes (out of more than 12 million) – not a landslide, but certainly not a tiny margin. What was tiny was only the margin by which he avoided a runoff: officially he received 50.1% of the vote to Odinga’s 43.3%.

Even that is bigger than it looks; it’s dragged down by the IEBC’s strange decision to include the informal votes before calculating the percentage. If you factor out the informals, as would be normal practice anywhere else, Kenyatta has 50.5% to Odinga’s 43.7%.

That’s a very clear victory, and it would have been a waste of time and resources to go to a second round. Odinga says he will appeal against the result, but has urged his followers to remain calm and promised to accept the court’s ruling. His chances would seem poor; observers have described the process as credible, and no-one has been able to point to the sort of irregularities that would justify overturning the result.

Contrary to what I suggested yesterday, the decision on the informals turned out not to matter, and for a rather interesting reason. Once the authorities gave up on the electronic system and started tabulating the results by hand, they discovered there were a lot fewer informals than they thought: a little under 1% rather than about 6%.

Despite the counting problems, the election seems to have been a great success for Kenya. Voting proceeded peacefully; turnout was much higher than predicted (about 86%); and despite what must have been a very trying few days, neither the wait for results nor their announcement triggered any general outbreak of violence. The institutional reforms that were made after the bloodshed of 2007-08 seem, so far at least, to have worked.

The cloud on the horizon, however, is that Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, as has his running mate, William Ruto. With both trials set for the middle of this year, Kenya’s next president looks set to remain a controversial figure.

 

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