Nairobi, Aug 8 (IANS) Kenyans were on Tuesday forced to wait in line for hours outside polling stations as new identification systems caused delays in a crucial presidential election held amid fears of a repeat of the violence that marred the 2007 general election.
Surveys suggested that the contest between the two main candidates, current President Uhuru Kenyatta and his long-time rival Raila Odinga, is too close to call after a campaign in which both accused each other of rigging the vote and inciting violence.
Kenyatta is seeking a second and final term in office and has called for unity, saying he would accept the result. He urged his rivals to do the same, BBC reported. He voted in his hometown of Gatundu, north of Nairobi.
Odinga, who’s running for President for the fourth time, served as Prime Minister between 2008 and 2013. He cast his ballot in the Nairobi slum of Kibera.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission spokesman Andrew Limo said turnout “looked huge” so far and as votes were cast at over 40,000 polling stations. Limo acknowledged claims of malfunctioning voting machines, saying there have been “three or four cases of malfunction” but added that for the most part things had “gone well”.
This year, a new biometric identification system was set up that requires voters to verify their identity and registration using a fingerprint reader that often needs several tries before it works.
Washington, a voter who had to wait three-and-a-half hours at a polling station before he could vote, said he thought the system would be reliable but complained of its slowness, Efe news reported.
Abdullahi Boru, one of the international observers in charge of keeping an eye on the Kibera slum, said it was a slow process in which a few failures had been detected and asked that people have patience.
Kenya’s polling stations opened at 6 a.m., although people had begun queuing up to cast their ballots even earlier.
In an otherwise incident-free morning, one polling station in Nairobi saw a human stampede that left 24 people injured, according to the country’s electoral committee.
Kenyatta, of the Kikuyu ethnic group, seeks re-election but his rival, Odinga — a Luo — is no stranger to campaigning and ran in the 2007 vote, in which he famously refused to accept the victory of his opposition, the then-President Mwai Kibaki, an act that fanned the tensions which later spiralled into tribal violence.
Kenyatta, who was deputy Prime Minister in the election’s aftermath, was at the time also accused of fuelling ethnic violence, a case for which he was summoned to the International Criminal Court, only to have the charges dropped due to a lack of evidence.
In the months that followed the 2007 vote, violent protesters from opposing political camps killed each other, set fire to their opponents’ houses and patrolled the streets in militarised vehicles.