NAIROBI, Kenya –– Kenya’s Vice President William Ruto has won the country’s presidential election, the head of the Electoral Commission said Monday, days after a cliffhanger vote in a country central to East Africa’s economy and security.
Mr Ruto received 50.5 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Raila Odinga, a former prime minister, said Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission chairman Wafula W. Chebukati. That percentage is enough to avert a runoff.
But minutes before the result was announced, four of the seven commissioners said they could not verify the result. The statement immediately raised questions about the legitimacy of the outcome and is likely to appear in any challenge to Kenya’s High Court by supporters of Mr Odinga
A legal challenge could, in the short term, prolong a period of uncertainty in a nation whose democracy is closely watched by the continent and the world.
Under Kenyan law, an election result can be challenged within a week – a prospect many observers considered almost certain.
Shortly after the results were announced, Mr. Ruto gave a speech in which he accepted the victory, thanked his supporters and vowed to work for the good of the country.
“There is no place for revenge, there is no place for looking back, we are looking to the future,” he said. “I am very aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck to move it forward. We don’t have the luxury of looking back.”
Celebration erupted in the streets of Eldoret Town, a stronghold of Mr. Ruto in the Rift Valley, with a deafening cacophony of car and motorcycle horns, whistles and screams taking over the downtown streets.
Later to journalists, Mr. Ruto dismissed the statement of the four election commissioners as a “sideshow”. Under the law, he said, election results could be announced by Mr Chebukati and no one else.
“Legally and constitutionally, the four commissioners pose no threat at all to the legality of the declaration,” he said.
Mr Ruto, 55, a wealthy businessman, has made himself the vanguard of Kenya’s ‘hustler nation’ – the disaffected, mostly young, aspiring people struggling to get a foothold. His announced victory appears to be a rebuff from his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had championed Mr Odinga.
But there is now a question mark over the result because the deputy chairwoman of the electoral commission, Juliana Cherera, issued a statement shortly before the election results were announced. She said she was speaking on behalf of four of the country’s seven commissioners, who could not endorse the results because of the “opaque nature” of the election.
In Kisumu County, a key stronghold of Mr Odinga, hundreds of protesters who had been anxiously waiting for the results to be announced began demonstrating and burning tyres, witnesses said.
For his part, Mr Odinga, who had previously run for the presidency four times, had been extremely critical of the vote counting process even before the results were announced.
“This was the worst-managed election in Kenya’s history,” Saitabao Ole Kanchory, Mr Odinga’s chief election agent, told reporters outside the national census center. He called the Nairobi census center “a crime scene” and said those responsible for the census “should be arrested”. He did not immediately react to Mr. Ruto’s declaration of victory.
Defeat would also be a devastating blow to Mr Odinga’s region of western Kenya, as well as to his ethnic Luo compatriots. Many of them say that since independence Luos has been unfairly ousted from the presidency and that Mr Odinga was denied victory in 2007 when he was shown as the leader in the vote count before finally being declared the loser.
This election led to ethnic and political violence that killed more than 1,200 people and forced tens of thousands to flee.
Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Eldoret, Kenya.