Kenyan leader, Obama urge calm in presidential election

"Reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people," former President Barack Obama said.

By Andrew V. Pestano
Kenyan leader, Obama urge calm in presidential election
Kenyan voters gather to cast their votes at a polling station in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday. President Uhuru Kenyatta is being challenged by popular opposition leader Raila Odinga. Photo by Daniel Irungu/EPA

Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Kenya's citizens will elect the country's president on Tuesday, and current leader Uhuru Kenyatta has called for unity and calm amid expectations of communal violence.

Seeking a second term in office, Kenyatta faces former Prime Minister Raila Odinga -- a key opposition leader who's run unsuccessfully three other times -- in the vote.


Though there are eight presidential candidates on the ballot, Kenyatta and Odinga are the leading candidates in the race that appears too close to call.

The election is organized by Kenya's Independent Electoral And Boundaries Commission.

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Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of Kenya's founding president, has called for his fellow Kenyans to respect the election results amid concerns. Problems with electronic voting in the closely contested 2013 election led to accusations the vote was rigged. In an election six years earlier, more than 1,200 people died by ethnic violence.

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The leading candidates have avoided using inflammatory rhetoric that could fuel tensions ahead of the vote, international election observers said. Kenyan officials have deployed about 180,000 security officers nationwide to ensure safety.


"We are all Kenyans. Our mothers and fathers all struggled so that we would all have a better Kenya and a better future," Kenyatta said in a televised address on Monday. "No matter the result in this election,we must stand together as one people. Above all, we reject intimidation. We must reject violence, or any attempt to divide us. Kenya is the only home we have. It is the only home we know."

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Both Kenyatta and Odinga cast their votes Tuesday morning. A presidential candidate must secure 51 percent of the vote to win outright, otherwise a run-off election is held. About 45 percent of registered voters are under the age of 35.

"I urge each and every one of you to exercise your patriotic duty by going out to vote. God bless Kenya," Odinga said in a statement.

In the general election, Kenyans will vote for a president, national assembly legislature members, female representatives, governors, senate and county assemblies. There are 47 available parliamentary seats and 16 seats in Kenya's Senate are reserved for women.

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Former U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father is a Kenyan national, also urged calm.


"I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people; urge security forces to act professionally and neutrally; and work together no matter the outcome," he said in a statement. "I urge all Kenyans to work for an election -- and aftermath -- that is peaceful and credible, reinforcing confidence in your new Constitution and the future of your country. Any disputes around the election should be resolved peacefully, through Kenya's institutions and the rule of law."

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