Kenya election : Polls open in high-stakes vote

  • Kenyans are heading to the polls on Tuesday to select the successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
  • Cost of living, high unemployment and rampant corruption have dominated the campaign season, with top presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto pledging to address the country’s gaping inequality and focusing largely on domestic issues.

    Odinga casts vote

    Odinga, who is running for the presidency for the fifth time, has cast his vote.

    The 77-year-old was greeted by chanting supporters as he arrived at a primary school turned polling station in Kibera, the country’s largest slum.

    Flagging economy looms large in presidential race

    Tuesday’s vote is seen as a key test of stability in a nation regarded as a healthy democracy and an economic hub.

    Still, with more than a third of the country’s youth unemployed, and a high cost of living, top presidential candidates Ruto and Odinga have laid out different visions of how they would address Kenya’s current woes.

    Ruto, who has called himself a ‘hustler in chief’ and regularly references growing up poor, has promised to inject 200 billion Kenyan shillings ($1.68bn) into the economy to create job opportunities, although where the money would come from remains unclear. He has framed his campaign around wresting power away from dynasties, including political scions Kenyatta and Odinga.

    The Odinga campaign has promised to begin paying 6,000 Kenyan shillings ($50) to poor and vulnerable households across the country in its first 100 days in office, as well as a healthcare plan called BabaCare. The veteran opposition figure has campaigned under the “Freedom is here” slogan, despite reconciling with longtime foe Kenyatta.

    Low turnout among young people expected

    Citizens of Kenya need to be 18 years old to vote, but the country’s electoral commission has said that registration among young people remains lower than in past elections, Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb reported from Nairobi.

    That’s partly because the top presidential candidates, Odinga and Ruto, “are familiar faces in Kenyan politics who have been making very familiar promises that successive governments have failed to tackle – widespread corruption and endemic inequality”.

    “People definitely want change. The soaring cost of fuel, through fuel and food, has been crippling. For many Kenyans the price of fuel at the pump has gone up by about 60 percent since the beginning of the year,” he said.

    President Kenyatta arrives to cast vote

    Uhuru Kenyatta has arrived to cast his vote, with Tuesday’s election largely seen as a referendum on his 10 years of leadership.

    Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first president following independence, is serving his second five-year term and is ineligible to run again.

    He has supported longtime rival Odinga, giving him support of the powerful ruling Jubilee party.

    The endorsement was seen as a pointed rejection of Ruto.

    Kenyatta’s 89-year-old mother, Ngina Kenyatta, arrived to vote shortly before her son.

    Five reasons to care about the vote

    Several key issues have loomed over this election season, including high unemployment and cost of living that has threatened one of Africa’s largest economies.

    Regional stability – and Kenya’s role as key power broker in the Great Lakes region covering Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, Rwanda and Uganda – has also played a role.

    Meanwhile, the election reforms meant to prevent violence like that committed in the wake of the 2007 election have increasingly been implemented.

    Here are five reasons to care about Kenya’s election.

    Polls open, top presidential candidate Ruto casts vote

    Polls have opened in Kenya’s election, with William Ruto, one of two top candidates running to replace President Kenyatta, casting his vote.

    Ruto has stressed his journey from a humble childhood to appeal to millions of struggling Kenyans long accustomed to political dynasties. Polls show Ruto neck and neck with Raila Odinga, who has vied for the presidency for a quarter-century and recently allied with Kenyatta.

    “In moments like this is when the mighty and the powerful come to the realisation that it is the simple and the ordinary that eventually make the choice,” a smiling Ruto told journalists after becoming one of the first voters.

    “I look forward to our victorious day.”

    How do elections in Kenya work?

    There are at least 22 million registered voters in Kenya, a country with a population of about 56 million.

    Voters are casting ballots at more than 46,000 polling stations across 47 counties. Beyond the four presidential candidates, voters will also select senators, members of the National Assembly, members of the county assemblies, and governors.

    A presidential candidate must win more than half of all the votes cast in the election and at least 25 percent of the votes cast in each of at least half of the counties.

    According to the constitution, if no candidate is elected, a new election has to be held within 30 days after the previous one.

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