Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father, was named the winner of the country's presidential election on Saturday with 50.07 per cent of the vote, but his opponent refused to concede, alleging multiple failures in the election's integrity that he said has put Kenyan democracy on trial.
Supporters of Kenyatta — a man accused by an international court of helping to orchestrate the vicious violence that marred the nation's last vote — flooded the streets, celebrating in a parade of red, his campaign's colour.
'I will honour the will of Kenyans and ensure that my government protects their rights and acts without fear or favour, in the interests of our nation.'—President Uhuru Kenyatta
Refusing to accept defeat, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the election process experienced multiple failures as he announced plans to petition the Supreme Court. Odinga asked for calm and for Kenyans to love one another, a call that may help prevent a repeat of the 2007-08 violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed and that brought Kenya to the edge of civil war.
Kenyatta's slim margin of victory increases the focus on a multitude of electoral failures that occurred during the six-day voting and counting process. Kenyatta surpassed the 50-per cent level needed to avoid a runoff by just over 8,000 votes out of 12.3 million cast.
The United States, Britain and the European Union gave Kenya's new political era a chilly reception. All released statements congratulating the Kenyan people but none mentioned Kenyatta by name. The West had made it clear before the vote that it would not welcome a President Kenyatta.
Kenyatta faces trial in July at the International Criminal Court over allegations he orchestrated the murder, forcible deportation, persecution and rape of Odinga's supporters in the aftermath of the 2007 vote. Kenyatta, as president, may have to spend large chunks of his first years in Kenya's highest office in a courtroom in The Hague.
The United States previously warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta wins, the nature of which depends on what happens in coming months. Britain has said it would have only essential contact with Kenyatta as president.
In his acceptance speech, Kenyatta gave a nod to the ICC, saying he recognizes the nation's international obligations. He pledged to continue to co-operate with "international institutions," but he also said he expects the international community to "respect our sovereignty and the democratic will of the people of Kenya."
Kenyatta was immediately afforded the state security for a president-elect, travelling in a shiny black convoy from the tallying centre to his election headquarters. In his speech, he thanked Odinga — calling him "my brother" — for a spirited campaign.
"Today we celebrate the triumph of democracy, the triumph of peace, the triumph of nationhood," he said, adding later: "My pledge to you is that as your president I will work on behalf of all citizens regardless of political affiliation. I will honour the will of Kenyans and ensure that my government protects their rights and acts without fear or favour, in the interests of our nation."
No major violence
If Kenyatta's victory holds, the son of Jomo Kenyatta will become the fourth president of Kenya since its independence from British colonial rule in 1963.
In the wake of the Kenyatta's victory, minor skirmishes were reported, including youths setting tires on fire in the western city of Kisumu, Odinga's home region. But no major violence was confirmed around Kenya.
Government officials have been working for months to avoid the postelection violence that brought Kenya to the brink of civil war five years ago, when more than 600,000 people were forced from their homes after President Mwai Kibaki — a Kikuyu like Kenyatta — was pronounced the winner over Odinga, a Luo.
The election commission held a dramatic midday televised announcement where officials appealed to Kenyans to accept the results with grace.
"There can be victory without victims," said Ahmed Issack Hassan, the chairman of Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Francis Eshitemi, an Odinga supporter in Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera, said it was clear his candidate had lost in a free and fair election and that he expected him to concede.
"The problem is that Raila doesn't have the numbers. There were a few irregularities, but the gap between Raila and Uhuru is big," he said.
Isaac Khayiya, another Odinga supporter, said: "This time we want postelection peace, not war. We will be the ones to suffer if there is violence. For them — Uhuru, Ruto, Odinga — they have security and they are rich."
The final results showed that Kenyatta won 6,173,433 votes — 50.07 per cent — to Odinga's 5,340,546 — 43.3 per cent. More than 12, 330,000 votes were cast, a record turnout of 86 per cent registered voters.
Kenyatta's task was not simply to beat Odinga, but to get over the 50 per cent mark and avoid a head-to-head runoff. Eight candidates ran for president. Even if Odinga succeeds in dropping Kenyatta's final numbers below 50 per cent and forces a run-off, he still has a huge gap in votes to make up in a potential second round.
Odinga listed election failures over the last week: a voter ID system was scrapped Monday after the technology failed; a preliminary tally of early returns froze and was scrapped Tuesday after computer servers overloaded; election officials said a computer error had inflated the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight in the early tallying system.
"What Kenyans witnessed ... was the failure of virtually every instrument that the (election commission) deployed for the election," Odinga said. "They all failed despite the billions (of Kenya shillings) spent on them."
Some international observers suggested that fraud could have pushed Kenyatta over the top but none offered any proof.
Odinga compared the "rampant illegality" to how the presidential vote ended in 2007, when Kibaki was awarded a win even though Odinga and his supporters believed he was ahead. "We thought this would never happen again. It has most regrettably happened again," Odinga said Saturday.
Odinga said results from at least five of the 291 constituencies were disputed, though he pledged to accept any ruling made by the Supreme Court.
"I have stated that nothing could have pleased me more if I had lost fairly," he said.
International diplomats who have worked to prevent violence have pressed Odinga to honour his pledge to protest the results in the courts and not on the street. As sunlight faded across Kenya late Saturday with only scattered reports of the smallest of disturbances, it appeared Odinga's call for calm was helping keep the peace.