Kenya votes: Problems occur but bloodshed is not repeated

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The people of Kenya, and to a degree the rest of the world, approached that country's March 4 elections as the equivalent of tiptoeing through a minefield.

The previous, 2007 elections had been marred by fraud and had ended up costing more than 1,000 lives in the violent rioting that followed them. There was every reason to believe -- as did occur in the event -- that this year's elections would also involve Kenyans voting for candidates based on tribe, not on other issues. But this round, so far, seems to have come out all right, to the credit of the Kenyan people who seem to have learned a lot from the bad experience of the previous round.

The victor for the presidency was Uhuru Kenyatta, 51, son of Jomo Kenyatta, the father of Kenyan independence, with 50.7 percent of the 12 million votes cast in a big turnout. Finishing second was Raila Odinga, 68, the current prime minister. He is challenging the results in court, but the intensity of his and his people's complaint is lessened by the fact that he received only 43 percent of the vote.

If Uhuru Kenyatta's 50.7 percent were contested successfully to below the 50 percent-plus-one-vote needed to win without a runoff election, Mr. Odinga's supporters know that it is likely that Mr. Kenyatta would win the runoff. His swearing-in is scheduled for March 26.

There were problems. The results from across the country were supposed to be reported to the national election center by encrypted cell phone. That system failed and the results had to be tallied instead by hand, delaying the announcement of the results and making everyone nervous. Mr. Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, stand accused before the International Criminal Court in The Hague of having organized part of the 2007 postelection violence. The United States has made a fuss about those accusations even though America does not recognize the authority of the ICC.

The third problem is the more fundamental one of Kenyans still voting on the basis of candidates' tribal origin. That problem clearly still needs more time for the country, independent since 1963, to get past. It is, however, in the face of what happened in 2007, a very solid achievement for the Kenyan people to have held these elections, so far virtually without bloodshed. That is real progress and Americans who wish Kenya well should be glad for it.



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