Tight security precautions are in place during the closing days of Kenya’s election campaign. Police are on the lookout for people trying to engage in fraud or seeking to disrupt this week’s presidential and parliamentary voting process. Voters will go to the polls on Thursday to choose from among three presidential candidates, incumbent Mwai Kibaki (PNU) and challengers Raila Odinga (ODM) and Kalonzo Musyoka (ODM-K). As in past years, authorities have experienced handfuls of deaths and chaos at rallies, and they’ll be watching carefully for charges of vote buying and poll tampering. This year, they are trying to minimize violence in the Kuresoi and Mount Elgon regions of Kenya’s Rift Valley, where an estimated 300 people have died so far in campaign-related incidents. Political science professor Macharia Munene of Nairobi’s US International University says that despite a highly contested campaign so far this year, the voting environment has been pretty stable.
“We have had incidents which are disturbing, incidents in places like Kuresoi, incidents of vehicles getting burned here and there. But the target is to have them minimized,” he said.
The latest pre-election polls in this country of 36 million still show a race between Kibaki and Odinga that is too close to call. Amid charges and countercharges of misconduct, Munene says both sides will be trying to stimulate a high voter turnout to capture a convincing majority for their candidate.
“Right now the number of eligible voters appear to be 18 million people, but the registered voters are about 14 million. And we expect about 10 to 11 million people to turn out, which is a very big turnout. And so all the candidates are very busy fighting for those 11 million votes. And they are not leaving any chances,” he notes.
Munene says much of the campaigning this year has been highly energized with ethnic, tribal, and regional affiliations playing a big role in party and candidate tactics.
“Definitely, the ethnic affiliations are an issue. And yes, there has been an attempt to polarize the country along ethnic lines, possibly to turn other communities against the Kikuyus in particular. And how far it will succeed remains to be seen,” he says.