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Despite chaos and a physical attack on Kenya’s top election official, the country’s electoral commission has announced Vice President William Ruto will be the east African nation’s fifth president.
In an election marked by great drama and shifting alliances, Ruto triumphed over Raila Odinga, Kenya’s longtime opposition leader, who had forged an alliance with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, who his supporters believed would guarantee him the presidency.
But after six days of counting, and just as the electoral commission was ready to announce a final count on Monday, four of the seven election commissioners left the main counting center in Nairobi, saying they could not support the final result because of the “opaqueness” of the vote count.
Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati took to the stage anyway, and chaos ensued. He was attacked by a senator. Others jumped onto the stage, tore up banners, overturned the lectern and attacked the remaining election officials.
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Two of them were injured, but Chebukati returned to the stage once more and explained that Ruto had narrowly won with 50.49% of the vote over Odinga’s 48.85%.
“We have a constitutional obligation to comply,” he said. “That is why I stand before you today, despite the intimidation and harassment. I have taken an oath of office to serve this country and I have performed my duty in accordance with the constitution and laws of the country.”
Kenya is a model of democracy in East Africa, a region where authoritarianism has risen. These elections were hailed as a step forward for Kenyan democracy because of political maturity in the campaign. Politicians focused on economic issues rather than the tribal mobilization that has been common in every Kenyan election since independence.
And those elections also started out as the most transparent in the country’s history. Just hours after voting was complete, the Electoral Commission began releasing raw data from more than 46,000 polling stations. This meant that anyone could count the votes and check the electoral commission’s calculations.
In his first speech as president-elect, Ruto spoke of reconciliation. He said he would not take revenge on his political opponents and called on Kenyans to work together.
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“I want to promise the people of Kenya that I will lead a democratic government and work with the opposition to the extent that the government oversees them,” Ruto said.
But across the capital, scenes of celebration mixed with anger. In the city’s two largest slums – Mathare and Kibera – the protests turned violent. A woman was killed in Mathare after a crowd threw stones at her car, causing it to overturn.
In Kibera, protesters set fires in the middle of the street and mobs destroyed roadside shops.
“We are furious,” said Jared Ochieng, 55, as he watched the flames from afar. “We didn’t expect that. What can help Kenya now is to push for more elections.”
Odinga, the leader of the opposition, did not appear in public, but his fellow campaigner Martha Karua, tweeted“It is not over till it’s over.”
Odinga now has seven days to appeal to the country’s constitutional court.