A cliffhanger in Kenya

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s preview, opinion polls in the leadup to Kenya’s presidential election had consistently put perennial challenger Raila Odinga in the lead, ahead of incumbent vice-president William Ruto. But it’s turning out to be a real cliffhanger.

The most complete figures currently available, at the Nation, have Ruto very narrowly ahead. With 89.5% of polling stations reporting, he has 49.9% of the vote to Odinga’s 49.4%, a lead of about 67,500 votes. The other two candidates are underperforming their (low) expectations with just 0.7% between them.

Kenya’s other main newspaper, the Standard, has similar but apparently slightly earlier figures; they are even closer, with Ruto on 49.70 to Odinga’s 49.63%. The BBC is much further behind: with about half as many votes in, it has Ruto on 53.0% and Odinga on 46.4%. That’s all as of about 6am (Friday), Kenyan time, and (understandably enough) no new figures have been added for a while; I expect they will resume counting fairly soon.

If you look at the electoral commission website it shows the process to be both more and less advanced than that. The “form 34A” returns, which are the photographed raw reports from each polling station, are almost complete, with only 28 outstanding, or less than 0.1%. But the “form 36Bs”, which compile results by constituency after the commission has checked the physical returns, are only 62.9% done.

In neither case does the commission provide any summary table, so to get totals you have to look at the hundreds (for 3Bs) or tens of thousands (for 3As) of forms yourself, which presumably is what the media have done. (The BBC explains the process here.)

If Odinga ends up losing it will cap off an extraordinarily unlucky career for him. This is his fifth attempt at the presidency; after coming third in 1997 he lost a disputed (and quite probably fraudulent) election in 2007; was again defeated quite narrowly in 2013; and succeeded in getting the 2017 election invalidated by the courts but then boycotted the re-run.

This time he had some of the advantage of incumbency with the backing of president Uhuru Kenyatta. So far it hasn’t been enough to get him over the line, but it’s still too close to call. If neither candidate can reach 50%, a runoff will be held: no date has been set, but the constitution requires it to be within thirty days.

Updates to come when new figures are available.

UPDATE 9am (Kenyan time): The figures at the Nation haven’t moved, but at the Standard, with only about 120,000 fewer votes counted, they’ve now got Odinga in the lead: 49.8% to Ruto’s 49.5%, a gap of 42,750 votes. They can’t both be right – but they both agree that it’s headed to a second round, which would be the first ever.

FURTHER UPDATE 3.40am Monday (Kenyan time): Still no official declaration, but Ruto is clearly the winner. The BBC’s figures now seem to be the most complete, and they have Ruto on 50.9% to Odinga 48.5%, a lead of about 325,000 votes. It also has good coverage of the situation on the ground, but is coy about telling its readers that the result is no longer seriously in doubt.

The Nation’s figures haven’t been updated for a long time; they also put Ruto in the lead, but below the 50% mark, 49.9% to 49.4%. The Standard has switched to just giving the results from verified tallies, which it says represent 201 out of 290 constituencies (and therefore only about three-quarters of the votes that the BBC is reporting); on that basis Ruto leads 52.6% to 42.7%, a gap of about 600,000 votes.


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