NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Vote-tallying in Kenya’s close presidential election isn’t moving fast enough, the electoral commission chair said Friday, while parallel counting by local media dramatically slowed amid concerns about censorship or meddling.
The head of the government-created Media Council of Kenya told The Associated Press that “no one has asked anyone to stop,” but added that “we want to align the numbers with each other” and “I think let’s peer review our numbers.” David Omwoyo was going into a meeting with media leaders as he spoke.
Kenyans and other observers expressed concern after Kenya Television Network, NTV Kenya and Citizen TV tallies of presidential results forms posted online by the electoral commission stopped or slowed Thursday evening.
Their differing results fed anxiety as longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga, backed by former rival and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in his fifth attempt at the presidency, faces Deputy President William Ruto, who fell out with the president years ago.
Kenya could see a runoff presidential election for the first time.
With no clear winner emerging and perhaps days more to wait, social media hummed with unverified claims by both candidates’ supporters, which rights groups called dangerous in a country with a history of political violence.
Even the official count was sluggish, adding to impatience. “We’re not moving as fast as we should,” electoral commission chair Wafula Chebukati said.
The public posting of results forms was meant to be a groundbreaking exercise in transparency for the electoral commission, which is under pressure after the high court cited irregularities and overturned the results of the previous presidential election in 2017, a first in Africa. Kenyatta won the new vote after Odinga boycotted it.
The commission chair even appeared to tease local media houses a day after Tuesday’s election, saying they were “behind” in tallying the more than 46,000 results forms being posted from around the country.
But transparency “is also a double-edged sword if caution and responsibility is not exercised,” the Kenya Human Rights Commission said Friday, saying the various media tallies without explanation have caused “anxiety, fear, unrest and in extreme cases, violence.” Meanwhile, social media is “awash with false information,” it said.
The media council on Wednesday noted “growing concerns” about the varying tallies and said it was consulting with media owners and editors “to find an urgent solution to this to ensure Kenyans receive synchronized results.”
Their slowdown brought criticism. “For media to be silent and opaque on their own counts and why they’ve stopped is yet another betrayal of their duty to Kenyans,” cartoonist and commentator Patrick Gathara tweeted Friday.
Editorial directors with the Citizen and Standard/KTN media houses did not respond to AP questions. The editor of the Nation media group, Mutuma Mathiu, addressed concerns in a commentary saying the slow count has given rise “to a whole raft of conspiracy theories and complaints,” adding that “media occupy different positions in relation to political interests.” He also cited the need to remain independent and do accurate work.
To win outright, a candidate needs more than half of all votes and at least 25% of the votes in more than half of Kenya’s 47 counties. No outright winner means a runoff election within 30 days.
Seeking answers, some Kenyans have turned to counting a far smaller set of results forms for 291 constituencies also being published by the electoral commission. Almost 75% of them had been posted Friday afternoon.
Turnout dipped sharply in this election, to 65%, as some Kenyans expressed weariness with seeing long-familiar political leaders on the ballot and frustration with economic issues including widespread corruption and rising prices.