NAIROBI, Kenya -- As tensions mounted over repeated failures to issue results in Kenya’s tightly fought presidential contest, the election commission Friday said there would be a further delay but promised the announcement later in the evening.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta was leading with votes tallied in more than 80% of the constituencies, but it was unclear whether he would garner the majority needed to avoid a runoff. He was sitting just below the threshold at 49.8% with 5.1 million votes to more than 4.5 million for his nearest competitor, Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Kenyatta is from one of Kenya's leading political dynasties, the son of the country’s first president. But he is facing charges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity stemming from violence that followed disputed elections in 2007.
To Kenyans, the election is seen as a crucial opportunity to break with the past, after the tribal violence of the last balloting left more than 1,000 people dead and tainted the country's reputation as an emerging democracy.
The vote is being closely watched by the United States and other Western powers, anxious about the possibility that a war crimes suspect could be voted into power in one of Washington's key allies in the war on terror and in a volatile region.
The wait dragged on into Friday evening after several tense days marked by technical failures and accusations of irregularities by the rival political parties.
Despite a relatively transparent process, anxieties deepened Friday as Kenyans crowded around TV screens awaiting results. Security forces were deployed in Nairobi to prevent violence.
Both parties spent tens of millions of dollars on the first round of the election, much of it scattered about in the cash payments to voters that are a feature of the political system here.
Adding to the drama, a Kenyan nongovernmental organization, the African Center for Open Governance, filed a petition in the nation's High Court on Friday to call a halt to vote tallying, claiming the credibility of the process had been undermined by various technical glitches. The group called for votes to counted manually from scratch to renew confidence in the process.
The High Court refused to accept the petition, saying only the separate Supreme Court could rule on the matter.
The election commission's chief executive, James Oswago, said at a news conference Friday afternoon the panel was determined that “this process must end today,” adding that delays were caused by issues and questions raised by the rival political parties, all of which had to be carefully investigated.
“Each and every time we have heard from them that certain things need to be looked into and we have tried to look into those things and we will continue to look into those things,” he said.
Commission chairman Issack Hassan apologized for the delay and said the most important thing was to ensure that all the tallies were correct, adding that staff were exhausted after working through the night since Monday's election.
Hassan rejected claims by Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement on Thursday that voting tallies in some constituencies were doctored.
The commission introduced electronic technology at various stages of the electoral process, but hit repeated failures. Voter recognition technology failed on election day, creating massive lines and voting delays before it was abandoned. A electronic system to convey tallies via computer from regions to the commission's central election center also failed and was dropped.
And at one point a bug in the computer system overstated the number of spoiled votes by a factor of eight.
As the glitches mounted, the clamor among rival parties which questioned the process also grew, increasing the risk that public confidence in the process could be undermined and violence could break out.