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Key faces, talking points: What to know about Kenya's presidential election

  • 6 Aug 2022

Kenya goes to the polls on Tuesday in a closely fought race to elect the fifth president since independence from Britain six decades ago. Here are some key facts about the vote.

A shop owner holds bags depicting presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto, with Kenyans set to choose their next leader in a vote on Tuesday. ( Reuters )

Kenyans are heading to the polls to choose a successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta. Tuesday's race is close and could go to a runoff for the first time.

From an initial shortlist of 17, four candidates were cleared to run for president, the smallest number since multiparty democracy in the early 1990s. The incumbent Kenyatta has served two terms and cannot run again.

One top candidate is Raila Odinga, an opposition leader in his fifth run for the presidency who is being supported by former rival Kenyatta. The other is William Ruto, Kenyatta’s deputy who fell out with the president earlier in their decade in power.

Both tend to focus far more on domestic issues, raising the question of how either will follow up on Kenyatta's diplomatic efforts for calm in neighbouring Ethiopia or in the tensions between Rwanda and Congo.

What's at stake?

Kenya is East Africa’s economic hub and home to about 56 million people. The country has a recent history of turbulent elections. Even then, it stands out for its relative stability in a region where some elections are deeply challenged and longtime leaders have been widely accused of physically cracking down on contenders.

Kenya has no transparency in campaign donations or spending. Some candidates for Parliament and other posts are estimated to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain access to power and its benefits, both legal and illegal.

The battle for votes has been dominated by mud-slinging, tit-for-tat claims of rigging and a freebie bonanza for supporters, who have been showered with umbrellas, groceries and cash for attending rallies.

Who are the candidates?

The 55-year-old Ruto promotes himself to the young and poor as a “hustler” who rose from humble beginnings as a chicken seller in contrast to the elite backgrounds of Kenyatta and Odinga. He seeks greater agricultural productivity and financial inclusion. Agriculture is a main driver of Kenya’s economy and about 70% of the rural workforce is in farming.

The 77-year-old Odinga, famous for being jailed while fighting for multi-party democracy decades ago, has promised cash handouts to Kenya’s poorest and more accessible health care for all.

Then there are George Wajackoyah, 63, a Nairobi street kid turned lawyer and former spy, and David Mwaure, 65, a senior lawyer.

READ MORE: Kenya top court rules against president's bid for constitution change

What do voters care about?

Odinga and Ruto have long circled among contenders for the presidency, and there is a measure of apathy among Kenyans, especially younger ones in a country where the median age is about 20. The electoral commission signed up less than half of the new voters it had hoped for, just 2.5 million.

Key issues in every election include widespread corruption and the economy. More than a third of the country’s youth are unemployed.

When will Kenya have a winner?

Official results will be announced within a week of the vote. 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.

The previous presidential election in 2017 made history when a top court overturned the results and ordered a new vote, a first in Africa. If the courts again call for a new vote, such an election would take place within 60 days of the ruling. Candidates or others have a week after the results are declared to file a petition to the court, which has two weeks to rule on it.

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