By Nation Africa
It was a neck-and-neck race between William Ruto and Raila Odinga as early provisional results from the presidential vote count trickled in from across the country.
With the other two candidates — George Wajackoyah and David Waihiga — barely scraping 0.5 per cent of the total vote between them, the two main candidates kept exchanging the lead at just around the 50 per cent mark.
As projected, Dr Ruto on the UDA ticket, was dominant in his Rift Valley strongholds as well as the populous Mt Kenya region; while Mr Odinga enjoyed the majority on his Nyanza bastions as well as lower eastern and the coast.
In a vote marked by a historic low turnout, the determining factor was how much each candidate would eat into the other’s support base.
In Nyanza, early projections had Mr Odinga retaining well over 95 per cent of the vote in Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay counties; with Dr Ruto managing similar dominance in Bomet, Kericho, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo and Uasin Gishu counties in the Rift Valley.
In the crucial Mt Kenya vote basket where support from President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to grant Mr Odinga a vital foothold in a region that voted against him to a man in the last three elections, the Azimio la Umoja coalition flagbearer was not performing as projected.
Mr Odinga got just three per cent of the Mt Kenya vote in 2017, but in the run-up to the elections had been scoring about 25 per cent on opinion, far behind Dr Ruto but still an important improvement given the number of votes at stake.
Early results however showed Mr Odinga struggling to attain 20 per cent in Murang’a, Kiambu, Meru, Kirinyaga and other populous counties in the region.
That could be a crucial development as the two main candidates were banking on the Mt Kenya vote to tilt the results in their favour, the reason both selected running mates from the region — Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua for Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance and former Justice minister Martha Karua for Mr Odinga’s Azimio ticket.
No presidential vote count updates
In a departure from past practice, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Mr Wafula Chebukati, did not give updates on the presidential vote count at the National Tallying Centre at the Bomas of Kenya.
What was on display on a big screen was not the number of votes recorded by each candidate or the tallies from different polling stations, but simply a projection from the IEBC website showing the number of result forms received from the 46,229 polling stations.
The public portal was accessible for the media and public to download the primary results forms from the polling stations, Form 34A, to do their own tallying.
Media houses had also deployed teams to make copies of the forms at polling stations for use in their independent tallying centres.
The Form 34A from the polling stations is what was being transmitted to the 290 constituency tallying centres for each constituency tally, which then generated Form 34B having the total presidential, votes for each constituency.
Form 34B in turn was to be transmitted to the National Tallying Centre to generate Form 34C, which will be the official presidential election results.
By last night the IEBC results management process was performing impressively, with over 80 per cent of the 46,229 Form 34As available for download on the public portal by 11.45 pm.
However, indications were that Mr Chebukati would, unlike in the past, not be announcing provisional or partial results as they streamed in.
He had indicated from the beginning that the IEBC would wait until the original forms — rather than the images sent electronically and made available on the portal — were physically transported to the National Tallying Centre, verified and data keyed in for computation.
It was, therefore, up to the media, and any other interested parties, to deploy their own staff to collect the forms from the polling stations and constituency tallying centres, or download them from the portal, and do their own tallying.
This is a slow and laborious process that saw all independent tallying centres overwhelmed as the forms were uploaded in a veritable deluge.
The process was expected to move much faster going into the morning as the IEBC started uploading the 290 form 34Bs from the constituency tallying centres.
But what was available even with the early count showed patterns that were bound to influence the final outcome.
In the Coast region where Mr Odinga has traditionally enjoyed good support, Dr Ruto was seen to be making important inroads, as he was in Western Kenya where winning the support of Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Mr Moses Wetang’ula was clearly paying dividends.
Lowest voter count
But the polls yesterday were marked by about the lowest voter turnout since the re-introduction of multiparty democracy.
By 4 pm, just an hour before most polling stations closed, 12,065,803 voters out of the 22.1 million registered — 56.17 per cent — had voted. This number excludes those identified through the manual register.
That is the lowest voter turnout since the 2002 elections, which, at 57 per cent, was the lowest since the return of the multi-party system in the 1992 elections.
Kenya recorded its highest voter turnout—86 per cent—in 2013 during a transition election plagued by international politics and the large shadow of the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases facing President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
A total of 12.3 million of the 14.38 million registered voters went to the polls in 2013, and while it was expected that with no mobilising factor as big as the ICC in the elections yesterday, the dipping of the voter turnout will be fodder for political analysis in the near future.
Under the 2010 constitution, a presidential candidate is declared victor in the first round win if they garner at least 50 per cent plus one vote of the total cast, and at least 25 per cent in at least 24 of the 47 counties.
In 2017, when President Kenyatta was seeking re-election, Kenya recorded 78 per cent voter turnout, 70 per cent in 2007 when President Mwai Kibaki was seeking re-election, and 68 per cent and 70 per cent in 1997 and 1992 elections, respectively, when President Daniel arap Moi was seeking fresh terms in office.
The 2010 referendum, when Kenyans gave themselves the current constitution, recorded a 72 per cent voter turnout.
“By around 4 pm, 12 million out of 22.1 million registered voters had voted, representing 56.17 per cent of voter turnout, excluding voting through the manual register,” said Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioner Francis Wanderi at a briefing. He expressed optimism that they will hit over 60 per cent voter turnout at the end of the exercise.
The elections recorded minor hitches with the Kiems kits, but which IEBC said only affected 260 of the 46,229 gadgets deployed.
While the general push by the leading candidates, Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga, were for their constituents to come out in large numbers to vote, observations by the Nation team spread out across the country showed general voter apathy, at least when compared with the 2013 and 2017 voter turnout figures.
Dr Ruto was the first to vote at Kosachei Primary School in Sugoi, Uasin Gishu County, at some minutes past 6 am.
Mr Odinga, on the other hand, voted at Old Kibera Primary School at 10.30 am, while Agano’s David Mwaure Waihiga cast his ballot in Nairobi at 9.30 am.
Roots party presidential candidate Prof George Wajackoyah had earlier left Indangalasia Primary School in Matungu Constituency without voting after the elections kit failed.
He was later allowed to vote, alongside other voters in the station, after IEBC approved the use of the manual register in his polling station and 183 others in Kakamega County.
In Mt Kenya, the largest vote bloc but without a mainstream presidential candidate for the first time since 1992, there was low voter turnout.
Travelling in Nyeri to assess the progress, Mr Wanderi described the turnout of between 16 and 30 per cent as “very poor”.
The weather was blamed for confining many in their houses in the morning, but the situation did not change much after it improved in the afternoon.
Many youths in Mt Kenya kept off from voting with some opting to spend time in bars. While in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 General Elections police ordered area bars and hotels closed to push up turnout, there was no alcohol sale restriction this time round.
In parts of Murang’a, Nation found scores of youths holed up in bars since morning, marking their fingernails with marker pens to pose as having voted.
“If one wants my vote, he or she should have paid me,” said one youth in a Maragua town bar.
Election observer, Wainaina Ndung’u said he had toured polling stations in Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nyeri and Murang’a counties and found the majority of voters were women, middle-aged and older persons.
“Some of the youths I interviewed claimed they were waiting for the queues to become shorter,” Mr Ndung’u said.
He added that apart from some voters’ fingerprints not being detected by Kiems kits and the elderly failing to get assistance to find their polling centres “there’s not much cause for alarm”.
Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri expressed worry about voter apathy in Laikipia County.
“I would say that the low number of voters can be attributed to the fact that we don’t have a strong presidential candidate. Some turn out to vote for one of their own,” The Service Party leader said. “Generally, the turnout is not good this time round compared to the 2017 General Election. We are still hoping that the number will improve before the end of the day,” he added.
At Mubukuro Primary School in Chuka/Igambang’ombe Constituency, Tharaka-Nithi County, voters waited for more than 10 hours before the exercise finally began at 4.20 pm due to missing ballot papers for the senatorial seat.
They now have up to tomorrow at 2.20 am to vote after they were compensated for the lost time.
County Returning Officer Mohammed Raka said there was a mix-up of the papers during packaging. “The ballot papers had been wrongly labelled and that is why they were taken to Tharaka,” he said.
In Ruguru ward, Mathira Constituency, Nyeri County, with the prospect of producing the next deputy president in Dr Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua, voters were just above the 50 per cent mark at 3 pm.
At Ngorano Primary School polling station, of 1,232 registered voters only 438 had voted by midday. It was the same situation at the Kabiruini coffee factory polling station.
Addressing journalists at Sagana Primary School polling station after casting his vote, Mr Gachagua attributed the low turnout to “bad weather and frustration of Kenyans by the government”.
But Some of the residents who talked to the Nation attributed the low turnout to a lack of “incentives”.
“I have only come to the polling centre to seek opportunities. I just came because I know there is money. I hope there will be something, but if they don’t give cash I won’t vote,” Michael Ndiritu, 23, said.
In Mr Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, there was consensus last evening the region returned a dismal turnout compared to the over 90 per cent projected by his strategists.
Some were quick to attribute the situation to disillusionment, low voter registration and failure to be identified by the Kiems kits.
Most constituencies in Nairobi reported low voter turnout. At Moi Avenue Primary School, the long queues that have characterised the polling centre in the past were nowhere to be seen.
In the North Rift, there was low voter presence on Tuesday afternoon, with little activity and almost empty streams until the exercise closed at 6 pm.
In Nakuru, leaders among them, including Governor Lee Kinyanjui, expressed concern about the low turnout and said it should concern the government. Senatorial aspirant Tabitha Karanja termed the voter apathy “tragic.”
Reporting by Collins Omulo, Silas Apollo, Faith Nyamai, Amina Wako, Agatha Gichana, Ruth Mbula, Thomas Matiko, Benson Ayienda, Hellen Shikanda, Betty Wekesa, John Ashihundu, Pauline Onganji, Amina Wako, Irene Mugo, Mwangi Muiruri, Mercy Mwende, James Murimi, David Muchui, Mworia Muchina, Alex Njeru, George Munene, Eric Matara, Purity Kinuthia, Macharia Mwangi, Waikwa Maina, Steve Njuguna, Geoffrey Ondieki, Mercy Koskei, Rushdie Oudia, George Odiwuor, Kassim Adinasi, Winnie Onyando, Angeline Ochieng, Barnabas Bii, Edwin Mutai, Onyango Kónyango, Fred Kibor, Titus Ominde, Tom Matoke, Florah Koech, Sammy Lutta, Oscar Kakai, Stanley Kimuge and Gerald Bwisa