According to local media, voters across the country began queuing as early as 2 a.m. local time in some locations.
Analysts say the race is tight, with neither leading candidate doing significantly better than the other in polls. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the election will go to a run-off for the first time in Kenya’s history.
presidential election on Tuesday, after opinion pollsis considered a duel between Deputy President William Ruto (55) and experienced opposition leader Raila Odinga (77). Odinga is a businessman and politician who served as Prime Minister of Kenya for five years after the disputed December 2007 presidential election, which led to widespread protests and violence that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Odinga is part of Kenya’s political dynasty; his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was the first Vice President of independent Kenya.
He earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in East Germany in 1970 and, after studying abroad, worked once as a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
He’s taking the survey for the fifth and final time, he says, after failing his previous four attempts.
Odinga has garnered the support of former rival President Kenyatta, who overlooked his deputy Ruto for the top post.
Affectionately called “Baba” by Kenyans, he has pledged to establish social protection and a universal health program called Babacare for poor households. His plans also include free education up to college.
This could be Odinga’s year, says political reporter and analyst Moses Odhiambo.
“There is a sense that which side the government appears to be leaning on is winning. If you go by opinion polls, Raila has an edge,” Odhiambo told CNN.
Odinga’s main antagonist, Ruto, describes himself as a “hustler-in-chief,” citing his humble beginnings as a chicken seller who fought his way up to one of Kenya’s highest political offices.
Ruto, a former teacher who has a PhD in plant ecology from Nairobi University, has embraced a populist “man-of-the-people” approach aimed at winning over Kenya’s largest voting bloc – the youth.
And he seems to be succeeding, veteran political scientist Herman Manyora told CNN: “Ruto has excited the youth … almost in a euphoric sense. That could help them vote.”
Ruto has promised to prioritize Kenya’s economy and “raise ordinary citizens” if he is elected President.
“There are worlds between me and my competitor. I have a plan, he doesn’t,” says Ruto about Odinga.
Ruto was tried alongside Kenyatta in 2013 at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands on alleged crimes against humanity following the 2007 election violence. However, the charges were later dropped.
Although the election would result in a change of government, the affiliation of Ruto and Odinga to the current government does not necessarily represent a new political phenomenon, argues analyst Odhiambo.
“Among the frontrunners, people are striving to strike a balance between what is perceived as continuity and freshness within a continuity,” Odhiambo said.
“Ruto is the Deputy President and part of the current government. There is a perception that Odinga could be an extension of the current President because of the support the President has given him.”
what are the problems
Among the top pressing issues for voters are a myriad of economic problems, ranging from mounting debt to high food and fuel prices to mass youth unemployment.
Parts of the country are also suffering from a crippling drought that threatens to exacerbate growing insecurity.
According to analyst Manyora, many Kenyans, especially young people, are disillusioned with the government and may boycott the elections.
“There are things that could affect voter turnout. One is the disillusionment in the country with the high cost of living, the helplessness and hopelessness among the youth, the unemployment, the poverty and the people who don’t see what the politicians are doing for them,” the analyst said.
He added that Kenya’s troubles should normally spur its compatriots to vote for the right candidates regardless of tribe, but they are not “angry enough”.
“One would expect Kenyans to turn out in large numbers because of these issues to express their anger at the high cost of living by voting out those responsible… I don’t think Kenyans are at a point where they are angry enough to turn the anger into political action,” Manyora told CNN.
The role of ethnicity
Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin and Luo are four of the East African country’s most populous ethnic groups. Outgoing leader Kenyatta is one of three of four Kenyan presidents to emerge from the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group since the country gained independence in 1963.
“The problem in this country is that tribal considerations supersede everything else… Most votes cast would be cast on a tribal basis; very few votes will come from critical voters,” said analyst Manyora.
Ruto is from the Kalenjin tribe and Odinga from the Luo ethnic group.
Both men traversed the country before ending their campaigns over the weekend, seeking support from those outside their strongholds.
Both candidates also chose their running mates from the Kikuyu – one of Kenya’s largest electoral blocs – also known as the Mount Kenya region.
Ruto is running alongside first-term MP Rigathi Gachagua, while Odinga is running alongside former justice minister and former presidential hopeful Martha Karua.
If elected, Karua will become Kenya’s first deputy president. Analyst Odhiambo says Odinga’s choice of comrade-in-arms has wowed women in Kenya.
“There is a growing wave of support around women’s leadership, accelerated by Odinga’s choice of Martha as his running mate,” he said.
According to the country’s Electoral Commission, women make up 49% of registered voters in Kenya.
Only the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes have produced the country’s presidents, and this is the first election where none of the leading candidates are a Kikuyu.
No candidate from the Luo tribe has won a presidential election.