Kenyan rights groups have warned political parties not to prematurely declare results in the country’s presidential election, as vote counting continues. Kenya’s ruling party has raised tensions with a claim without evidence of massive election-rigging. Kenya’s media houses halted their own vote counting as a precaution.
Kenya’s electoral commission is in its third full day of tallying votes from Tuesday’s presidential election.
As the country awaits the result, electoral managers for the two main presidential contenders, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, have each claimed victory for their candidate.
Each side has also accused the other of election rigging, increasing tension across the country.
Kenyan media have been doing their own tallies and the results show a tight race between Odinga and Ruto. But on Thursday, media stopped announcing results in an effort to hold down passions.
Davis Malombe is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. He says media outlets and social media are to blame for the restlessness in the country.
“It’s also a double-edged sword if caution and responsibility is not exercised. In the last two days, Kenyans have been exposed to a continuous release of unverified electoral results which has greatly escalated tension and anxiety around the country which most has emanated from mainstream and social media spaces propagated by the political actors," Malombe said.
Odinga and Ruto have yet to comment about the election, but their handlers have assured supporters of winning and urged them to prepare for celebrations.
Winnie Masai is the head of Information, a human rights organization. She says those announcing their own results must understand the country’s history of electoral violence.
“This country has had to deal with the history of political violence and conflict in several parts of the country associated with the inter-political disagreement and intransigence, with probable tension increasing as the result of the projection of the wins by the two leading political parties and their followers," Masai said. "We are now caught up in an environment of strong partisan position that might overshadow an opportunity of both patience and tolerance.”
Some observers accuse the commission of being too slow to count the votes, which allows speculation on the outcome to run rampant.
Three electoral officials were taken to court in northern Kenya Friday for alleged irresponsible handling of election materials.
On Friday, the operation of the election-tallying center in Nairobi was briefly interrupted after Odinga and Ruto election agents clashed over a suspicious gadget found in the building.
The head of the commission, Wafula Chebukati, appealed for calm.
“Please don’t interrogate the returning officers and slow down the process," said Chebukati. "If we do that, then we shall not be able to finish this exercise. So agents play your role, observe, make notes and let the process move on.”
Masai says those interested in the electoral process should be cautious and follow the law.
“We, therefore, demand that the political parties and allies refrain from raising tension through the premature and careless pronouncement of purported unverified winners with immediate effect," Masai said. "We urge the social media platforms to continue carrying out their mandate in regulating content while the public, on the other hand, also should exercise their civic responsibility and refrain from making unsubstantiated claims on the ongoing tallying process.”
The electoral commission said it will deploy more officers to help verify results from the more than 46,000 polling stations. The commission has until Tuesday to announce a president-elect.