Kenya row over rejected ballots

NAIROBI - A row has broken out in Kenya over whether rejected ballots should be included in the presidential vote count following tightly contested polls.

The coalition of candidate Uhuru Kenyatta accused the UK of playing a "shadowy" role by trying to deny him outright victory in Monday's vote.

The UK denied the allegation.

There have been severe delays in counting as the electronic system has crashed. Early results put Mr Kenyatta ahead of his rival Raila Odinga.

On Tuesday, the election commission said the rejected votes would be included in the final tally - which could determine whether there is a presidential run-off.

So far about 6% of the total votes counted are spoilt ballots - well over double the number of votes cast for the third-placed candidate, Musailia Mudavadi.

With provisional results in from more than 40% of polling stations earlier on Wednesday, Mr Odinga had 42% of the vote compared with Mr Kenyatta's 53%.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence which broke out in 2007-08 after Mr Odinga claimed he had been cheated of victory by supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, who is stepping down after two terms in office.

Mr Kenyatta is due to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) next month after he was accused of fuelling the violence to increase Mr Kibaki's chances of staying in power.

He says the trial is politically motivated and he will clear his name in court.

In the run-up to the election, the European Union (EU) said it would only have limited contact with a president who faced trial at the ICC, while US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson warned Kenyan voters that "choices have consequences".

Profiles

Uhuru Kenyatta

    Son of Kenya's first President Jomo Kenyatta
    Due to stand trial at ICC in April accused of organising violence in last election
    His running mate, William Ruto, also accused
    Both deny the charges
    From Kikuyu ethnic group - Kenya's largest at 22% of population and powerful economically
    Kikuyus and Ruto's Kalenjin community saw fierce clashes after 2007 poll
    Currently deputy prime minister

Raila Odinga

    Son of first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
    Distant relative of Barack Obama
    Believes he was cheated of victory in last election
    From Luo community in western Kenya - 11% of population.
    Some Luos feel they have been marginalised by central government
    Third time running for president
    Currently prime minister under power-sharing deal to end violence last time

"The Jubilee coalition is deeply concerned about the shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya's election," said Charity Ngilu, a senior member of Mr Kenyatta's coalition.

"The British High Commissioner [has] been canvassing to have rejected votes tallied in an attempt to deny the Jubilee coalition outright victory."

The Jubilee coalition also claimed there had been an "abnormally high influx of British military personnel in the country which began around voting day".

The UK Foreign Office said claims of British interference were "entirely false and misleading''.

"We have always said that this election is a choice for Kenyans alone to decide," it added.

UK soldiers in Kenya were part of a training programme planned nine months ago and was "completely unrelated" to the elections, the Foreign Office said.

Meanwhile, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Issack Hassan said the presidential result would be announced by Friday.

Counting has slowed down because it is now being done manually after the electronic system broke down; the IEBC's website stopped working on Tuesday evening.

IEBC deputy chair Lilian Mahirie told the BBC it was not clear why the system had crashed. Hacking could not be ruled out, she added.

Returning officers were ordered to physically deliver paper copies of their constituency's tallies to the counting centre in the capital.
'Impressive'

Observers from the African Union (AU) and European Union said the election process - the first under a new constitution - had been credible so far, despite the problems.

"And although the election process is not over yet, we can already say that Kenya can be credited with demonstrating an impressive commitment to democratic elections," chief EU observer Alojz Peterle.

Commonwealth observer mission head Festus Mogae, the ex-president of Botswana, said he was not surprised that the electronic counting system failed, Associated Press news agency reports.

"We are not yet as proficient as western Europe or North America. That it's failed is no surprise to me. It often does in our countries,'' Mr Mogae is quoted as saying.

The BBC's Solomon Mugera in Nairobi says the issue of spoiled ballots has become a major bone of contention, and the election commission would take a final decision about what to do with them once all votes are counted.
Watching results come in at a shop in Kibera Some Kenyans are nervous at the delay in declaring the results

If no agreement is reached, one of the presidential candidates is bound to mount a legal challenge, he says.

One of the reasons why there were so many spoiled votes is that Kenyans had, for the first time, six ballot papers to fill in, which may have caused confusion.

A possible compromise would be to include those ballots that had been put in the wrong box - for instance, in the parliamentary box rather than the presidential box - while excluding other types of spoiled ballot papers, our correspondent says.

Kenyans are becoming increasingly anxious about the delay in finalising the results and some businesses and schools have remained shut since Monday's election, he says.

This has led to a shortage of goods, pushing up the prices of basic foodstuff in areas such as Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi and a stronghold of Mr Odinga, he adds.

The winning candidate must get more than 50% of the total votes cast and at least 25% of votes in half of the 47 counties - the latter was a requirement introduced in the new constitution to make sure the new president wins with wide support rather than only with the backing of voters in his regional and ethnic strongholds.

If there is no clear winner, a second round of voting will take place, probably on 11 April.

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