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Sunday 31 August 2014

Kenyan election on a knife-edge

Published 08/03/2013 | 15:41

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Kenyan presidential candidate Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta casts his vote (AP/Ben Curtis)

The last ballots in Kenya presidential race are being counted with Uhuru Kenyatta, the leading candidate, watching his share of the vote swing above and below the crucial 50% mark that would hand him an outright win and avoid a run-off.

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The latest vote tally showed Mr Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister, with 49.9% of the vote. A little more than 80% of voting locations have been tabulated. Earlier, Mr Kenyatta briefly broke above 50% before the election commission gave another update.

Electoral expert Tom Wolf, a research analyst with the polling firm Ipsos Synovate, said that outstanding votes coming in from Kenya's Rift Valley are a "very abundant vote basket" for Mr Kenyatta. His running mate, William Ruto, is from the Rift.

The 50% mark is a must if Mr Kenyatta is to avoid a challenging run-off with the other top candidate, prime minister Raila Odinga.

The election commission announced that it intends to finish the counting process by the end of the day.

Kenya's capital, Nairobi, has been sleepy since Monday's vote for president, the country's first election since its 2007 vote sparked tribe-on-tribe violence that killed more than 1,000 people. But groups of security forces in riot gear took to the streets today in regions of the city that could turn tumultuous after results are announced. The prime minister's supporters turned violent in 2007 after Mr Odinga said he had been cheated.

A Kenyatta win could have far-reaching consequences with Western relations. The son of Kenya's founding father, Mr Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his role in directing some of the 2007 post-election violence.

The US has warned of "consequences" if Mr Kenyatta wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has warned it would only have essential contact with a president Kenyatta.

The US Embassy in Kenya is larger than any other American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya's strong role in US foreign policy. The US also has military forces stationed near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the lynchpin of East Africa's economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.

Mr Kenyatta's ICC trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague for the first half of his presidency. Another option is, as president, to decide not to go. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya's standing with the West. Mr Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague even if he wins the presidency.

Press Association

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