Raila Odinga                                                    Uhuru Kinyatta

Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kenyan politician who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, was leading by a wide margin in the Kenya election on Tuesday, with more than a third of the votes counted.

Mr. Kenyatta, who is one of the richest men in Africa and a deputy prime minister and has been accused of bankrolling death squads that killed women and children, was ahead 55 percent to 41 percent over the second-place candidate, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister.

Preliminary results showed that voters, who poured into the polls on Monday, some waiting for 10 hours, voted overwhelmingly along ethnic lines, with some areas voting 98 percent for the leader from their ethnic group. Many shops in Nairobi remained shuttered, with people worried about riots once the final results are declared and a clear winner and loser become apparent.

Police officers were everywhere, some wearing helmets and padded riot suits. Kenya’s election commission has been steadily tabulating the votes and expects a preliminary result by Wednesday. Kenya’s police chief, ‪ David Kimaiyo, said that several suspects had been arrested in connection with a spate of attacks on Monday, in which at least four police officers were murdered with machetes. He said more suspects were on the loose and added, “We will catch them.”

Kisumu, a city in western Kenya and Mr. Odinga’s ethnic stronghold, which exploded in riots in 2007 and 2008 during the last presidential election, was quiet on Tuesday.

“We’re just waiting,” said Christine Ololo Atieno, a seller of secondhand shoes and a passionate Odinga supporter. “People are still hoping that more votes will come in and things will change.”

Mr. Odinga says he was cheated out of winning the last election, and many analysts say that Kisumu could erupt again if there is vote rigging and Mr. Odinga loses again.

Millions of Kenyans poured into polling stations on Monday to cast their ballots in a crucial, anxiously awaited presidential election, and as the voting proceeded relatively smoothly a real chance emerged that a candidate charged with financing death squads could win the race, raising an array of complex challenges for Kenya’s international relationships and with the court itself.

The United States and other Western allies of Kenya have warned of “consequences” if Mr. Kenyatta wins, though few Western officials have been willing to discuss exactly what kind of repercussions or sanctions this could bring.

This is Kenya’s first presidential vote since 2007, when a dubious election, marred by widespread evidence of vote rigging, set off ethnic clashes that swept the country and left more than a thousand people dead. Many Kenyans have worried that history could repeat itself, and in the past week, the atmosphere in Nairobi has been almost like a hurricane about to hit.


Flour, rice, bread and other staples were stripped from supermarket shelves as families stocked up on supplies, in case riots break out. Many people have fled ethnically mixed urban areas, fearing reprisal killings should the vote go awry.

“We must keep the peace,” said William Ruto, after voting early Monday.

Mr. Ruto was running for deputy president as Mr. Kenyatta’s running mate, and he has also been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, accused of orchestrating widespread violence. After the last botched election, Mr. Ruto’s supporters killed scores of Kikuyus, the ethnic group of Mr. Kenyatta and Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, who is stepping down because of term limits. Many of Mr. Ruto’s supporters had backed Mr. Odinga at the time and claimed that the Kikuyus had historically oppressed them and rigged that election.

But in a sign of how pliable political alliances can be, analysts said, Mr. Ruto and Mr. Kenyatta decided to team up this time to improve their chances of beating the charges in the International Criminal Court. Kenya is of the most industrialized and democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a beachhead for Western interests and a close American ally, but its history has been haunted by intense, often violent ethnically charged politics. Mr. Odinga says he was cheated out of winning the election in 2007.

Before Monday, many analysts predicted that neither Mr. Odinga nor Mr. Kenyatta, a deputy prime minister and the son of Kenya’s first president, would win more than 50 percent of the vote, mandating a runoff in April. There is also a requirement that the winner receive 25 percent of the vote in the majority of Kenya’s counties, which, in a country crisscrossed by stubborn ethnic fault lines, could be difficult.

This election is the most complicated Kenya has ever held. A host of new positions has been created, like governorships, Senate seats and county women representatives, in an attempt to change the winner-take-all nature of Kenyan politics. And Kenyan civic groups have tried mightily to make this an election about issues, not about ethnicity, with countless public service advertisements telling voters to pick candidates based on their integrity and plans.

Still, many Kenyans vote along ethnic lines, picking a candidate from their ethnic group.


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