Voting in Kenya’s first election in five years under a modernised constitution kicked off Monday to elect a new President, 47 Senators and an equal number of governors for the first time in the nations electoral history.
“Kenya stands on the brink of a whole new world. These elections can only be compared to the 1963 elections which brought an end to (British) colonialism,” Prime Minister Raila Odinga, himself a candidate for the presidency, said ahead of the vote.
Millions of Kenyan voters formed long winding queues along allays and main streets in the capital, Nairobi, for a chance to cast their vote.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which has assured a hesitant nation that the vote would be credible, free and fair, is using an electronic system of identifying voters, known as a biometric data system (BVR).
Local election officials said early voter turnout appeared low, especially in Eldoret town, the Western town situated 260 km from Nairobi, one of the regions hit by the violence that followed the 2007 elections, which left 1,300 dead and displaced over 600,000 people.
Police have deployed 99,000 officers, 9,000 of them being commanders and senior officers, to secure the poll centres. At least 26,000 election observers are tracking the polls.
Earlier, the African Union (AU) called on Kenyans to exercise their civic rights peacefully.
The Head of the AU Election Observation Mission (AU-EOM), former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, called on Kenyans to go out and exercise their civic rights.
The AU has over 65 Observers, including five Long Term Observers who were deployed to Kenya since 12 January 2013, to monitor the voting.
Apart from choosing a new president to replace incumbent Mwai Kibaki, voters in the East African nation will get a new set of government officials to put in place what would be one of Africa’s foremost and most modern systems of governance.
Kenya is gearing for the implementation of a new constitution which, apart from allowing the voters the powers to recall poorly performing government officials, also puts into power a list of 1,450 local government representatives.
The county representatives is a slightly modernised system from the local government structure, formerly run by the Central Government.
Parliament will be made up of some 337 Members (MPs) who will include 47 County women representatives, 47 Senators and 47 Governors.
The voters will pick 290 MPs directly and the rest will be picked from party lists after the election. The lists were submitted to the IEBC before the polls.
The party that wins the majority of the seats in parliament will have the largest share of nominees to either the Senate or the lower chamber.
The IEBC said it anticipated a flawless process throughout the day.
Once the elections are concluded, the votes will be counted and the results relayed to local tallying centres and declared within 48 hours.
IEBC has said those who remain on the queue at the close of voting hour will still cast their ballot.
“You must utilise the value of your vote because it is very important. We value every single vote because it would determine the quality of leaders to govern the country,” said James Oswago, the Chief Executive Officer of the IEBC.
The IEBC, one of the results of a long list of reforms undertaken since the last vote in 2007/08, is currently run by a two-chamber system, with a group of Commissioners of varying technical expertise and a dedicated civil service team.