NAIROBI — Kenyans stood in line for hours Tuesday to cast ballots in hotly contested nationwide polls, including a presidential vote, facing rain and both cold and hot weather throughout the day.
The race for the country’s highest office pits the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, against his longtime rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga. Voters also decide on senators, governors, women’s representatives of the national assembly, members of the national assembly, and members of county assemblies.
Hellen Mazitoh, a 32-year-old voter from the Githogoro slum in Nairobi, waited in line for well over seven hours but says she isn’t complaining.
“Let me say, the election mood is good. People are voting. Once they vote, they are going home. Nothing bad has occurred. Nobody left, people are responding well,” said Mazitoh.
‘I want my voice to be heard’
Thirty-three-year-old voter Emmanuel Musundi Wamukundi waited for more than four hours at his polling station in Nairobi. He says the lines were a bit disorganized in the beginning, but otherwise, things seemed to be running smoothly.
“I mean, it’s patriotism, this is for my country, and I want to be involved in it,” said Wamukundi. “I want my voice to be heard and it’s the only thing I can do to change things.”
The electoral commission said heavy rain hampered voting in three parts of the country — Turkana North, Baringo and Samburu — and helicopters were required to airlift materials and polling officials.
The commission said voting would be extended in any polling stations that got a late start.
Both candidates in the presidential race expressed confidence Tuesday as they cast their ballots in Nairobi.
Opposition leader Odinga told supporters gathered outside his polling station to “continue mobilizing to come out and vote. This victory is ours.”
President Kenyatta said the ruling Jubilee coalition had run a “very positive campaign” and that he believes Kenyans “want us to continue moving forward.”
Poll taken ‘very seriously’
Former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and former Senegalese prime minister Aminata Touré visited Jamhuri High School in Nairobi as co-leaders of the U.S.-based Carter Center election observation mission. Kerry referenced the long lines he’d seen at polling stations as a sign of the commitment of Kenyan voters.
“It’s too early for us to draw any kinds of conclusions so we’re not, but obviously given what’s happened in the past and given the stakes for the future, this is a very, very important election, and clearly the citizens of Kenya are taking it very, very seriously,” said Kerry.
Kenya’s electoral commission is using biometric voter identification and electronic vote transmission systems to conduct the elections. The vote is seen as a key test for the commission after voting technology failed during the last polls in 2013, sparking allegations of vote rigging.
Like so many Kenyans, voter Francis Mutiso Matheka is urging peace above all else in these elections.
“I would love to tell fellow Kenyans to vote peacefully,” said Matheka. “We need this country, after today, after tomorrow, and this country, it’s greater than any one of us.”
Also calling for a peaceful outcome Monday was former U.S. president Barack Obama, the son of a native-born Kenyan. Obama issued a statement urging voters in his ancestral homeland to “reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people; urge security forces to act professionally and neutrally; and work together no matter the outcome.”
The winner of the presidential election must receive 50 percent of all votes, and 25 percent of votes or more in at least 25 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If neither candidate hits that threshold, a run-off will take place.
Results are expected by Friday, though by law, the electoral commission has up to seven days to announce the tallies.
– Jill Craig I VOA I Reuters