afrol News editorial, 4 March - As the counting process has started today, the polls are getting exciting: not due to the violence many foreign media claimed to expect, but because it may become a tight race. Contrary to media reports, little ever pointed to a violent election.
The elections in Kenya so far have been carried out in an almost perfect way. They turned out to be well planned, well organised, and - contrary to what international media reports would indicate - Kenyans have not had any desire to let the polls develop into violent riots. On the contrary, the desire for democratic progress and increased welfare is dominant in the country.
Reports from all parts of Kenya indicate that voters were let to enter ballot stations in peaceful and ordered manners, although many had to endure long queues, and were able to express their will freely in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Also in impoverished Kibera in Nairobi, voters appeared in great numbers and cast their ballot in a peaceful and well organised way.
In Kibera, as in other parts of the country, a large majority of the 14.3 million registered Kenyan voters had turned out in their best wardrobe or in clothes expressing their political preferences. Spirits were high.
The peaceful elections strongly contrast how many media have warned about the "dangers of unrest" and evoking memories from the exceptionally disastrous election six years ago. Few African elections have ever received such an amount of news coverage before they were even held, and the coverage has generally been in a "concerned" tone. But these "concerns" never were real - they have been speculative and Kenyan voters have demonstrated they were unfounded.
The same goes for Kenyan politicians and the professional electoral commission.
Indeed, there have been intensive and targeted works in Kenya to ensure the disasters from the previous elections are not repeated. The constitution is new and the electoral code has been improved. The electoral commission has worked hard on maximising transparency around the voting process and has trained candidates and journalists in how the democratic process works.
The work is done, it seems to have been done well, and it has been done in full transparency. Evoking the "dangers of unrest" therefore either has been speculating disregarding common knowledge, or it has been based on ignorance.
In Kenya, meanwhile, it is now that the exciting process really starts. The counting of the votes will not be a fast process, and it may provide several surprises as the ballots from big districts are getting ready, suddenly turning the overall results.
Most expect the election results in Kenya to be tight. The two clear favourites at the key presidential polls are Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, who is recommended by the incumbent. The most probable, if none of the two favourites surprise by getting over 50 percent of the votes straight away in this first round, is that the two will have to endure a second round in April.
But one of the two candidates may indeed surprise. Prime Minister Odinga has had much time to present himself as "the democratic alternative" to the established parties. Mr Kenyatta, on the other hand, is the son of Kenya's mythical first president and belongs to the country's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyus. Further, he counts on the support of the outgoing President, Mwai Kibaki.
There have also been speculations that there is a risk of riots as soon as a winner is declared.
But also this seems much less probable than in 2007. This time, the entire counting process is much more transparent, thus creating less space for election rigging rumours (and it cannot be ruled out that the 2007 polls indeed were rigged). An increased confidence in the electoral commission among candidates, journalists and voters will make it easier to accept a defeat.
But of course there will be large groups of voters disappointed by the results. Some will even make noise and trouble, which will get large media attention. But there is little reason to believe that the unavoidable defeat of one of the candidates will lead to large-scale riots and ethnic violence. Nobody in Kenya wants to repeat that experience.
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