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Jittery Kenya waits to hear from presidential loser after disputed vote

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Jittery Kenyans were waiting Tuesday to hear from president-elect William Ruto’s defeated rival Raila Odinga, with many speculating he will mount a legal challenge to the outcome of the country’s close election race.

Ruto’s opponents cried foul Monday after he was declared winner of the August 9 election in a close race with Odinga, and the outcome also triggered divisions in the body responsible for overseeing the vote.

The poll’s aftermath is being keenly watched as a test of democratic maturity in the East African powerhouse where previous elections have been tarnished by claims of rigging and bloodshed.

Veteran opposition leader Odinga failed in his fifth stab at the top job even after running with the support of his old foe, the outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The 77-year-old has made no public comments since polling day, but his party agent on Monday described the election process as “shambolic”, saying it had been marred by irregularities and mismanagement.

Odinga now is set to address the nation at 2 pm (1100 GMT).

Kenya could be in for a long period of political uncertainty if there is a court challenge by Odinga, who says he was cheated of victory in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.

‘We don’t need to protest’
In August 2017, the Supreme Court annulled the election after Odinga rejected a Kenyatta victory and dozens of people were killed by police in ensuing protests.

The worst electoral violence in Kenya’s history occurred after a disputed vote in 2007 which Odinga also lost, when more than 1,100 people were killed in bloodletting between rival tribes.

On the campaign trail, both frontrunners pledged to deal with any disputes in court rather than on the streets.

Violent protests neverthelesss erupted in Odinga’s strongholds in Nairobi slums and the lakeside city of Kisumu on Monday evening, although the situation was calm Tuesday.

Weary Kenyans, already struggling with a severe cost of living crisis, say they just want to get on with their lives.

“I don’t think we need to protest. We need to fend for our families. Protests are expensive. It can even cost you your life,” said Bernard Isedia, a 32-year-old taxi driver and father of two who voted for Odinga.

“Life has to return to normal,” he told AFP.

“Raila Odinga should come out and tell people to calm down. His word alone will calm this country down.”

‘ No room for vengeance’
Ruto, the 55-old deputy president who was banished to the sidelines after Kenyatta’s pact with Odinga, was conciliatory in his victory speech Monday.

“I will work with all leaders in Kenya so that we can fashion a country that leaves nobody behind,” Ruto said, pledging to run a “transparent, democratic, open government”.

“There is no room for vengeance.”

He said the poll had been fought on issues as much as “ethnic configurations” in a country where tribal affiliations have affected every election since independence from Britain in 1963.

No presidential poll outcome has gone uncontested in Kenya since 2002, and a court challenge by Odinga is seen as almost certain, with his running mate Martha Karua saying on Twitter: “It is not over till it is over.”

– ‘Opaque’ process –
The race remained unpredictable to the end, with Ruto scoring 50.49 percent of the vote compared to 48.85 percent for Odinga, according to Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati.

But in an extraordinary move shortly before the announcement, four of the IEBC’s seven commissioners disowned the results, with one describing the process as “opaque” but giving no details.

The IEBC was under intense pressure to produce a clean and transparent vote after it faced stinging criticism over its handling of the annulled 2017 election.

Chebukati, who was IEBC boss in 2017, insisted he had carried out his duties according to the law of the land despite “intimidation and harassment”.

Any challenge must be made within seven days to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to issue a ruling. If it orders an annulment, a new vote must be held within 60 days.

“The election is far from over,” Nic Cheeseman, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham in England, said on Twitter. “Expect a lot of controversy. Expect a court case. Expect this to run and run.”

If there is no court petition, Ruto will take the oath of office in two weeks’ time, becoming the fifth president since independence.

But he will inherit a country already struggling with soaring prices, a crippling drought that has left millions hungry, endemic corruption and disenchantment with the political elite.

While a host of African leaders congratulated Ruto, the US embassy instead issued plaudits to Kenya’s voters, while urging political rivals to settle their differences peacefully.