The campaign teams of Kenya’s two main contenders in a close-run presidential poll said the outcome of the tightly fought contest could come down to a pile of “rejected votes”.

In a twist reminiscent of the 2000 US presidential election, when the “hanging chad” – a reference to indecipherable vote intentions – played a central role in determining who entered the White House, rejected ballots that so far comprise more than 6 per cent of votes counted could decide an outright winner, or whether the contest must go to a second round run-off.

Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister, was on Tuesday evening leading partial, provisional results in the elections, which are taking place in the shadow of a poll five years ago, when disputed results and allegations of vote-rigging triggered ethnic killings.

Raila Odinga, prime minister, was neck and neck with Mr Kenyatta in opinion polls ahead of the vote but stood at 42 per cent with a little more than 42 per cent of votes counted.

Amid the uncertainty, early on Wednesday morning the Kenyan shilling fell nearly 1.5 per cent against the dollar to as low as 86.75, but regained some ground, trading at 86.35 early afternoon local time.

Votes classed as “rejected”, which include spoiled ballots and ballots placed in the wrong box, have so far not been factored into the calculation of running percentages. ELOG, Kenya’s national election observers, said rejected votes could surpass 500,000 as the count progressed.

But Issack Hassan, chairman of the country’s independent electoral body IEBC, on Tuesday said that rejected votes would count towards the final tally and that percentages would have to be updated to reflect this.

If the rejected ballots were to be added to the total votes cast, it would reduce each candidate’s share of the vote. Mr Kenyatta’s percentage on Tuesday evening, for example, would decline to 50.2 per cent from 53.5 per cent if rejected ballots were included in the total number of votes counted.

A candidate must secure an absolute majority to win at the first round, replacing past rules that required only a relative majority for victory.

Lawyers representing the candidates and the IEBC met separately following Mr Hassan’s comments, in an attempt to interpret a clause in the 2010 constitution that says “votes cast” rather than valid votes should count.

“We have put a team of lawyers together to discuss that issue,” said an IEBC spokeswoman, following Mr Hassan’s comments.

Later in the day, Mr Hassan confirmed that the count would be updated to include the rejected ballots.

“According to the constitution the text is very clear it’s not the valid votes cast but the votes cast, so therefore we have to include them in our calculations,” said Salim Lone, spokesman for Mr Odinga.

On current patterns, including rejected votes, the result would favour Mr Odinga.

“Given that we expect Odinga to do well with the remaining votes this would almost certainly guarantee a run-off,” said Nic Cheeseman, lecturer in African politics at Oxford university, referring to results expected from Mr Odinga’s strongholds that had yet to be counted.

Mr Kenyatta’s team said its party chairman met Mr Hassan on Tuesday evening to discuss the issue and was consulting lawyers.

Voters on Monday went to the polls to elect six separate posts – from president to parliamentarians – in the country’s most complicated elections in its history, casting six ballots into six separate pale pastel-coloured boxes that some found hard to differentiate in gloomy polling stations.

“Hardly any civic education happened,” said Kennedy Masime of ELOG, who argued that according to the constitution, all votes, whether rejected or not, should be included in the final vote tally.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article