In hope or despair, Kenyans choose new president from familiar faces

A polling official carries electoral materials from an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) tallying centre ahead of the general election in Nairobi, Kenya August 8, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenyans voted in national elections on Tuesday, forming long queues at ballot stations in the heartlands of presidential frontrunners Raila Odinga and William Ruto, while elsewhere turnout was dampened by widespread voter apathy and frustration.

Kenya is holding presidential, legislative and local elections at a time when its citizens are growing increasingly exasperated at surging food prices and ingrained corruption.

But large numbers of young people have not registered to vote, electoral commission figures show, with many fed up of widening inequality and a lack of trust in either side to fix the problems.

In some polling stations in the capital Nairobi, Garissa, and Naivasha, lines were shorter than in previous elections, although turnout could pick up later. By noon, turnout was just over 30 percent, said Juliana Cherera, the electoral commission's vice chair.

Turnout in the last election was near 80%.

"Kenyans are tired of waking up early and voting for a government that doesn't care but we hope things will change," said Joshua Nyanjui at a polling station in the town of Naivasha, around 90 km (56 miles) northeast of the capital Nairobi.

Nyanjui said that in the last elections he queued for over four hours; this time it took under 30 minutes. Other voters in Naivasha complained of high prices and hunger.

Odinga and Ruto are familiar faces in Kenya. Ruto, 55, has been Kenyatta's deputy for nine years, though the two have fallen out. Instead, Kenyatta endorsed veteran opposition leader Odinga, 77.

The final four opinion polls published last week put Odinga ahead by six to eight points. Ruto dismissed them as fake.

Kenya is a stable nation in a volatile region, a close Western ally that hosts regional headquarters for Alphabet, Visa and other international groups. However, less than 0.1% of Kenyans own more wealth than the bottom 99.9% combined, according to Oxfam.

In the western city of Kisumu, a bastion for Odinga supporters, police had to disperse singing, dancing voters who spent the night at one polling station.

David Onyango, 34, had been queuing for nearly four hours and the turnout was the biggest he'd ever seen.

Near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Ruto's political heartland, Gideon Mengech woke up at 3 a.m. to vote.

"I am honoured to be here," he said.


Some polling stations opened late and some biometric kits used to identify voters failed work properly, Odinga said on Citizen Television. In Narok, some names beginning with certain letters were missing from lists.

The election commission allowed 238 polling stations to use a manual register of voters and extended voting time in those that had delays, it said.

On Monday it suspended two gubernatorial elections and two parliamentary races, citing ballot printing errors.

The winner of the presidential vote will have to tackle soaring food, fuel and fertiliser prices, which have hit Kenyans hard. Some voters wonder whether the next president will help.

Outgoing President Kenyatta has delivered an infrastructure boom, largely funded by foreign loans that will hang over his successors, but once said there was nothing he could do to tackle corruption.

Kenya's traditional ethnic voting dynamics may also dampen turnout. The largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, have provided three out of Kenya's four presidents. This time, there is no Kikuyu candidate, although both frontrunners have Kikuyu deputies.

Ruto comes from the populous Kalenjin community, based in the Rift Valley, while Odinga's Luo ethnic group have their heartland in western Kenya.

Ruto has sought to capitalise on growing anger among poor Kenyans and wants to to provide loans for small enterprises.

Odinga, who has competed unsuccessfully in four previous elections, promises to tackle corruption and make peace with political opponents. The 2007 and 2017 polls were marred by violence after disputes over alleged rigging.

To avoid a run-off, a presidential candidate needs more than 50 percent of votes and at least 25 percent of votes in more than half of Kenya's 47 counties.

Provisional results will start streaming in Tuesday night, but an official announcement will take days.

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Ayenat Mersie in Eldoret; Daud Yussuf in Garissa and Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Andrew Heavens, Michael Perry and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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