Kenya presidential hopeful challenges count in tense vote

NAIROBI Thu Mar 7, 2013 7:09pm IST

Kenya's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his wife Ida leave after casting their votes at Kibera primary school in Nairobi's slum March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Kenya's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his wife Ida leave after casting their votes at Kibera primary school in Nairobi's slum March 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Noor Khamis

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - The running mate of Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga called for the vote count to be halted on Thursday and cast doubt on the fairness of a process still incomplete three days after the poll, remarks that could inflame a largely peaceful election.

Odinga, Kenya's prime minister, is trailing Uhuru Kenyatta in the partial count. His running mate Kalonzo Musyoka said his comments were not a call for mass action and he urged voters to stay calm and patient. Disputes over Kenya's last election in 2007 sparked ethnic violence that killed 1,200 people.

"We as a coalition take the position the national vote tallying process lacks integrity and has to be stopped and re-started using primary documents from the polling stations," Musyoka told a news conference.

"We have evidence the results we are receiving have been doctored," he said.

Despite technical glitches, international observers have in past days broadly said the vote and count was transparent.

An election official said the count was not stopping. The authorities have insisted the process is fair and said the result would not be compromised by the failure of electronic counting technology that has slowed down the tally.

Western donors are watching closely, worried about a nation seen as vital to the region's stability but also fretting about how they might deal with a win by Kenyatta, who is indicted for crimes against humanity over election violence last time.

Kenyans have been hoping this vote will restore its image as one of Africa's more stable democracy after the mayhem five years ago and many have voiced determination not to take their differences to the streets but to turn to a reformed judiciary.

Witnesses said areas in the capital Nairobi and Kisumu, a city in the west of Kenya, where violence erupted after the 2007 vote, appeared calm shortly after Musyoka's comments.

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COUNT DRAGS ON

"It is not a call to mass action," Musyoka said. "We must tell them (Kenyans) there will be no mass action. We are committed as a coalition to the principle of the rule of law."

Ahmed Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, said late on Wednesday that counting could be concluded on Friday but might drag on till Monday, the last day on which by law the results must be publicly declared.

Kenyatta's coalition had no immediate comment but has previously questioned aspects of the process without calling for a halt. Kenyatta's team have also urged voters to be patient.

Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, are charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for orchestrating the tribal blood-letting after the 2007 vote. They both deny the charges but said they would cooperate to clear their names.

Musyoka questioned the sharp fall in the number of spoiled ballots counted as Kenya scrapped an electronic tallying system and switched to rely solely on a manual one. The amount of those ballots could have a significant impact on the outcome.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of votes in the first round, the top two will go to a run-off, provisionally set for April depending on any legal challenges.

The electronic system that broke down had aimed to provide speedy provisional results before the final figures were manually gathered, but the vacuum left when that system failed has been filled by complaints by rivals over the process.

"LET'S MAINTAIN THAT PEACE"

Voting passed off broadly peacefully, and Kenyans have said they are determined to see it stay that way. But many businesses had stayed closed or kept stocks low as a precaution against the kind of violence and looting that erupted last time.

In Nairobi's Mathare slum, a flashpoint in the violence five years ago, residents played down any talk of bloodshed.

"I don't anticipate any violence. We are all Kenyans and there is no need to fight. We voted peacefully, let's maintain that peace," said Shadrack Otieno, a 37-year-old Odinga backer.

In Kisumu, the biggest city in Odinga's tribal heartland, businesses, which had shut for voting, started re-opening for the first time in four days.

"If this trend continues then we will protest in the streets," minibus taxi conductor Joseph Omwaru told Reuters, adding he believed there was rigging in Kenyatta's favour.

By 1150 GMT, with almost 5 million votes tallied, Kenyatta had about 2.7 million votes to Odinga's 2 million, giving the deputy prime minister more than 50 percent.

But there is still a long way to go, as turnout was estimated at more than 70 percent of the 14.3 million voters.

The Kenyan shilling has been volatile against the U.S. dollar with each twist and turn of election, climbing when a clear result looked like it could emerge swiftly but weakening with the uncertainty of the slow count.

Kenyatta's Jubilee coalition has accused foreign nations of seeking to meddle in the vote, singling out British High Commissioner Christian Turner for criticism. Turner dismissed the charges of interference as "entirely false and misleading".

Odinga's camp had also previously questioned parts of the election process before, during and after the vote.

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Yara Bayoumy in Nairobi, Drazen Jorgic in Mombasa and Hezron Ochiel in Kisumu; Writing by Edmund Blair and James Macharia; Editing by Janet McBride and Peter Millership)

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