After a Bitter Contest, Kenyan Opposition Leader Rejects Election Result

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Speaking for the first time since he lost Kenya’s hard-fought presidential election, the opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the result announced on Monday and vowed to pursue “all legal options,” apparently signaling that the dispute that has gripped the East African country is likely to be decided at its Supreme Court.

“What we saw yesterday was a travesty and a blatant disregard of the constitution and the laws of Kenya,” Mr. Odinga told supporters at a conference center in downtown Nairobi. He accused the country’s electoral commission of bias in favor of his rival, and now president-elect, William Ruto.

The narrow victory pronounced by the electoral commission on Monday — 50.5 percent of votes for Mr. Ruto against 48.9 percent for Mr. Odinga — was “null and void and must be quashed by a court of law,” Mr. Odinga said.

Mr. Odinga’s declaration plunged Kenya’s election, until yesterday lauded as one of its most peaceful and best-organized votes, into a period of political uncertainty that is likely to last weeks, if not longer.

Mr. Ruto, who is currently the vice president, moved quickly to cement his status as president-elect on Monday, calling for unity and saying there was “no room for vengeance” after a hard-fought campaign.

Greeted with a string of flattering newspaper headlines on Tuesday, Mr. Ruto also offered an olive branch to supporters of Mr. Odinga, who at 77 is making his fifth bid for the presidency, having lost his first four attempts.

Mr. Odinga’s rejection of the results is based on the actions of four election commissioners who stormed from the counting center just before the winner was declared on Tuesday, saying the commission chairman, Wafula Chebukati, had not taken into consideration their concerns about the counting process.

Describing the dissenting commissioners as heroes, Mr. Odinga commended them for standing up “to the bullying and illegal conduct of Mr. Chebukati.”

Mr. Ruto, for his part, has dismissed their actions as a “side show,” along with any suggestion that they have tainted the legality of his election.

The four election commissioners, who were appointed last year by Mr. Odinga’s political ally, President Uhuru Kenyatta, gave a news conference on Tuesday where they outlined their reasons for refusing to sign off on the elections.

The news conference was broadcast on a large screen at the conference hall where Mr. Odinga’s supporters were waiting to hear their leader speak. They clapped when the one of dissenting commissioners, Juliana Cherera, called the result “unconstitutional.”

Kenyans are on edge because disputes over the last three elections, in each case centered on claims that Mr. Odinga had been cheated, spilled over into lengthy confrontations and, in 2007, ethnically-targeted violence in which more than 1,200 people were killed.

On Tuesday Mr. Odinga, however, made a point of appealing to his supporters for calm.

“Let no one take the law into their own hands,” he said, flanked by his running mate, Martha Karua. The message appeared to have been heeded at Mr. Odinga’s strongholds in western Kenya and in the sprawling Nairobi shantytown of Kibera, where the streets were largely quiet on Tuesday.

In towns along the eastern edge of Kisumu County in western Kenya, the soot of burned tires, as well as stones and sticks, were strewn across the streets on Tuesday, evidence of protests the night before.

But in Kisumu, the lakeside capital of western Kenya, shopping centers and restaurants began to reopen, with traffic backing up in some areas. In the low-income Kondele district, where streets strewn with broken glass and overturned dumpsters testified to clashes between protesters and security forces on Monday night, young men clustered in groups on Tuesday to chew over Mr. Odinga’s speech.

“We won’t fight, we won’t go to the streets,” said Tony Odhiambo, 25, who works at an internet cafe. “We will wait for the court to take his side.”

Still, the presidential dispute has opened a deep chasm in Kenya’s power structures, and is badly straining state institutions.

Chaotic scenes erupted at the national tallying center on Monday where several thousand people, including political leaders and foreign dignitaries, had gathered to wait for the result of the bitterly-contested election to be declared.

There were long delays as the dissenting election commissioners refused to sign off on the result, then left for a luxury hotel where they issued a short statement to reporters. Mr. Odinga’s top aides stormed out of the hall to hold a news conference, denouncing the counting center as the “scene of a crime.”

Then Odinga supporters rampaged through the hall, rushing onto the dais and casting the event into complete disarray. The supporters flung chairs on the floor and clashed with security officials brandishing truncheons. Foreign officials fled. A choir continued to sing.

Half an hour later Mr. Chebukati appeared on stage, saying that two of his commissioners had been assaulted, and declared Mr. Ruto as the winner.

The United States embassy appeared to endorse the beleaguered electoral official, saying in a statement hours later that the election result was “an important milestone in the electoral process” and urging all sides to “peacefully resolve” any differences.

On Tuesday morning, the electoral commission formally declared Mr. Ruto president-elect in a special edition of the government’s Kenya Gazette, in a move apparently intended to underscore the legality of the results announced a day earlier.

Many supporters of Mr. Odinga view Mr. Ruto and his appeal to Kenya, a country Mr. Ruto calls a “hustler nation,” with extreme suspicion. And for voters in western Kenya, an ethnic stronghold for Mr. Odinga where many people say that they have been excluded from presidential power since independence, the announcement on Monday of Mr. Ruto’s win stung.

An election officer who had vanished from a polling station in Nairobi was found dead 125 miles away, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on Kenya’s southern border, local news media reported. It was not immediately clear whether his death was linked to the voting.

A statement on Tuesday by the respected Election Observation Group, which comprises civic and faith-based groups, could serve to make Mr. Odinga’s task more difficult. The group did its own analysis of the published results and concluded that they were broadly accurate.

The detailed statement concluded that the results the group had seen were “consistent” with those given by the electoral commission.

Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from Nairobi, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Kisumu, Kenya.

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