Kenyans face tight race in presidential elections

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Kenyans face tight race in presidential elections

Early results from Tuesday show that Kenya s veteran opposition politician Raila Odinga and the deputy president William Ruto are locked in a tight race for the country's highest office.

The national media updates put Ruto in the lead, at about 52%, with Odinga a close second at 47%. Odinga is in clear and marginal lead, with a number that was better than predicted by the deputy president.

The race is still too early to call with results coming from only a third of polling centres. To win the elections in the first round, candidates would have to secure more than 50% of the total votes cast and at least 25% of votes from 24 of Kenya's 47 counties. If there is no outright winner, a run-off election would be held in 30 days.

Voter turnout this year has been dismal. About 56% of 22 million registered voters had cast their vote an hour before the close of the polls. The electoral body has not yet released final turnout figures but initial estimates suggest a downward turn from 2017 where 78% of a registered 19 million Kenyans turned out to vote.

The elections are coming due to a cost-of-living crisis and soaring unemployment rates that have left many Kenyan households struggling. The voters are disillusioned by the promises of former governments, according to analysts. A growing number of under 35 s, who make up 75% of the country's population, said this year that they do not see elections as a pathway to change.

A troubled electoral history has also lowered public faith in the electoral commission's ability to run a credible poll. The results have been contested over the last three election cycles, with poll discrepancies in 2017 leading to a repeat election.

To gain support among a disaffected electorate, politicians had to pivot their campaigns on the pressing economic issues facing the country, leading to a shift away from the country's ethnic and personality-driven politics to issue-based campaigns.

Odinga has promised quality healthcare for all and social support for the poor, including a 40 monthly stipend for the most vulnerable households. He pledged to revive agriculture and manufacturing, and fight corruption. Ruto has run a platform on economic empowerment for the poor, promising to set up a fund for small businesses.

Results are not going well amid high interest but relatively low tensions. The election body has seven days to announce the results, but the winner is expected to emerge within the week. Odinga and Ruto said they would accept the outcome.