Kenya’s elections typically have not just highly charged campaigns, but they are protracted affairs after the vote too, with fierce contestation over the result and often violence. It had been hoped that this month’s presidential election would break that cycle, but events have so far played to previous trends. All votes have still not been counted, but with well over 90% of the polling stations declaring results, President Uhuru Kenyatta had secured almost 55% of the vote, with the Opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, trailing by about 10 percentage points. Mr. Odinga of the National Super Alliance has disputed the provisional lead for the incumbent in Tuesday’s election. The former Prime Minister has claimed the Opposition alliance’s own tabulation is at variance with the provisional figures, alleging that official databases have been hacked. The election commission dismissed the allegations, insisting that the polls were held in a free and fair manner after an overhaul of the mechanism. Curiously, the poll authority said that it had not received any formal complaint from the Opposition. The suspense over the ultimate outcome is likely to linger, not just because the election commission is allowed seven days to declare the final tally. The two-stage process in the announcement of the results, besides poor electronic connectivity to interior regions, could complicate matters. For instance, the provisional tallies are based on text messages sent by the returning officers from various polling stations to the commission’s database. The final official results are calculated from the prescribed forms filled out at different polling centres and transmitted electronically to the commission.
The technically complex system — the tabulation system broke down in the previous election — has added grist to the Opposition mill. Mr. Odinga had exuded confidence about his own prospects, while expressing cautious optimism about the conduct of a free and fair poll following a reshuffle in the electoral body. But he has now sought to make connections between the murder of a top poll official last week and the results. Equally, there have been concerns over the maintenance of law and order during previous elections. More than 1,000 people were killed in post-election violence in 2008, drawing international condemnation. The 2013 presidential election was marred by clashes. The availability of well-established channels to resolve electoral disputes is a pre-requisite for a functioning democracy, and Kenya needs to consider further reforms in the light of repeated disputes. But the shortcomings of these institutions cannot be a licence for the display of muscle power and violation of fundamental freedoms. The government as well as the Opposition have a moral responsibility to ensure that the current controversy does not deteriorate into violence and bloodshed.