The polls have officially closed in Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The voting was generally peaceful, although at least 15 people were killed in attacks in the country’s coastal region.
Early preliminary results of the presidential race showed Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of rival Prime Minister Raila Odinga, both frontrunners maintaining a strong lead over the six other candidates. Official results were not expected before Tuesday morning at the earliest.
Voting officially ended at 5 p.m. local time, but polling stations remained open late on Monday to allow those who were still waiting in long queues to cast their ballots, elections officials told news agencies.
The European Union's observer mission said earlier in the day that turnout for the election was high. More than 70 percent of Kenya's estimated 14 million registered voters cast ballots on Monday.
Despite attacks earlier in the day, Kenyans did not encounter unrest at the polls, as had been the case during the 2007 elections.
"The atmosphere observed is mostly calm," the head of the mission, Alojz Peterle told the Reuters news agency at a polling station in central Nairobi. "People still queue peacefully and patiently. We hope that this peaceful and patient atmosphere will last until the end of the procedure even if it takes longer than expected."
The winner will take the place of President Mwai Kibaki who has reached the two-term limit.
Early morning attacks
Election day didn't start peacefully, though. At least 15 people were killed in a series of attacks by machete-wielding gangs outside of the coastal city of Mombasa and the nearby town of Kilfili. Regional police chief Aggrey Adoli told Reuters that at least nine security officers were among those killed. Some sources put the overall death toll as high as 19.
Suspicion immediately fell up on the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist group that had threatened to launch election day attacks. The group, though, denied any involvement.
"We are not responsible for any attacks anywhere in this region," MRC spokesman Mohammed Rashid Mraja told Reuters by telephone.
Both of the frontrunners in the presidential election, current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy, Uhuru Kenyatta, condemned the attack.
Monday's violence appeared to be linked to a separatist movement.
In the 2007 election, Odinga lost to current President Mwai Kibaki. Claims that those polls had been rigged sparked violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Charges in The Hague
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta - the son of Kenya's founding president, Jomo Kenyatta - is still to face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where prosecutors accuse him of orchestrating the 2007 post-election violence. It wasn't clear how much of a factor this could be in Monday's vote.
Almost 100,000 police officers were deployed to secure the elections, in which Kenyans were voting not just for a new president and parliament, but also for governors, senators, councilors and special women's representatives.
Official results weren't expected to be announced until Tuesday at the earliest. If none of the presidential candidates gains the 50 percent minimum of votes required to win the election outright, a runoff would have to be held, likely in April.
pfd/dr (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)