from Africa in Transition

Polls Show Kenya Presidential Contest in Dead Heat

February 26, 2013

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting



Kenya goes to the polls on March 4 with Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga the only credible presidential candidates. The Ipsos Synovate poll shows that Kenyatta is ahead with 44.8 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 44.4 percent. Kenyatta is ahead in twenty counties while Odinga has nineteen. The polling company identifies Nairobi and three other counties as toss-ups. To win the presidency without a runoff requires the victor win 50 percent plus one of the votes. Under those circumstances, a runoff looks highly likely. Both candidates are longtime political rivals; Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, one of the early African independence leaders and Kenya’s first president.

In the past, elections have been dominated by appeals to ethnic identities and coalition building. There has been widespread electoral fraud and considerable violence that threatened the legitimacy of the democratic process. The elections of 2007 were particularly bloody and provoked a political crisis that lasted for months. It ended only with a power-sharing agreement brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with strong international support. Under its terms, the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, assumed the presidency while Odinga became prime minister. Subsequently, the country adopted a new constitution designed to reduce the saliency of ethnic divisions and reform electoral procedures. Nevertheless, there is widespread fear that the March 4 elections will be violent. The Nairobi Star comments that Kenyans are moving out of areas that are ethnically mixed, and shop keepers are emptying their shelves and closing their doors.

Kenyatta is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for crimes he allegedly committed during the 2007 elections. If he wins on March 4, or in the possible runoff, Kenya will face the challenge of an indicted chief of state. Kenya is a signatory of the Rome treaty (unlike the United States) and therefore recognizes the jurisdiction of the ICC. Polls show that voters opposed to Kenyatta are significantly swayed by his indictment.