Kenya elections: Top presidential candidate accuses UK of 'shadowy' meddling

After the electronic vote counting system broke down, meaning votes will have to be tallied by hand, the top presidential candidate blamed Britain's high commissioner.

By , Associated Press

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    A plain clothed policeman stands in front of ballot boxes in a tallying center at Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday. Election officials in Kenya began transporting their ballot counts to be tallied in the capital Wednesday after the electronic vote counting system broke down.
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Election officials in Kenya began transporting their ballot counts to be tallied in the capital Wednesday after the electronic vote counting system broke down, as the coalition of a top presidential candidate levied charges against Britain's high commissioner that the United Kingdom is meddling in the vote.

The political coalition of Deputy Prime Minster Uhuru Kenyatta — the candidate that faces charges at the International Criminal Court and is the son of Kenya's founding president — accused the British high commissioner of "shadowy, suspicious, and rather animated involvement" in efforts to get the election commission to make a decision on how rejected ballots should be counted in the overall vote total.

Kenyatta's party also asked the high commissioner, Christian Turner, to explain what it called "the sudden upsurge of British military personnel" in Kenya. British troops attend a six-week training course near Mount Kenya before deploying to Afghanistan. A new battle group arrived the week before Kenyans voted.

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Britain's Foreign Office said claims of British interference "are entirely false and misleading." The British soldiers in Kenya are part of a regular training program planned nine months ago "completely unrelated to the Kenyan elections." It said Britain has no position on how to handle the rejected votes, saying that the election commission or the Kenyan courts should decide.

"We have always said that this election is a choice for Kenyans alone to decide," the Foreign Office said, adding: "We urge all sides to ensure calm, avoid inflammatory statements, and to take any disputes to the courts."

Kenyans on Monday held their first presidential vote since the nation's disputed election in 2007 spawned violence that killed more than 1,000 people. Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kenyatta are the top two contenders.

Late Tuesday, the election commission chairman announced that hundreds of thousands of ballots that were rejected for not following the rules would be counted in the overall vote total. That makes it very difficult, given the tight race, for either top candidate to reach the 50 percent mark needed to win outright.

(Check out the Monitor's related coverage of Kenya at the Africa Monitor blog)

Election observers from around the world said Wednesday that Kenya carried out a credible election on Monday, but the groups reserved final judgments until the counting process is completed. Some observers said it appeared a run-off between Odinga and Kenyatta is likely.

Kenyans were growing increasingly frustrated that the announcements of public vote tallies have ceased close to 48 hours after polls closed. The breakdown of the electronic vote system has meant less than half of preliminary results were released. Officials — who have been working to ensure violence doesn't break out this election — are calling on the public to remain patient.

Partial results on Tuesday had shown an early lead for Kenyatta, though his percentage will drop when the rejected votes are counted in the total. Odinga's camp also told supporters that the votes from his strongholds had not yet all been tallied. An April runoff election between the two candidates is expected.

The statement from Kenyatta's coalition on Wednesday implied that the British high commissioner pressured the commission to make the decision on the spoiled ballots, thus ensuring a runoff.

The Kenyatta statement said his party awaits answers to such questions, and it called on supporters "and the nation at large" to remain calm and peaceful.

William Ruto, Kenyatta's running mate, on Tuesday had also blamed "foreign missions" for swaying the electoral commission on its ballot decision. The decision "is meant to deny us a first-round win," Ruto was quoted as saying by The Standard newspaper.

Kenya is the lynchpin of East Africa's economy and plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants. The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is the largest in Africa, indicating this country's importance to U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta is to win, as have several European countries. Because Kenyatta is an ICC indictee, the U.S. and Europe have said they might have to limit contact with him, even if he is president.

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Associated Press reporter Rodney Muhumuza in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

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