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Supporters of William Ruto, Kenya's president-elect, celebrate in Eldoret on Aug. 15.SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Deputy President William Ruto, a self-described “hustler” who campaigned as a champion for the young and the poor, has won a narrow victory in a Kenyan presidential election whose results were clouded by a dramatic split in the country’s election commission.

Mr. Ruto won 50.5 per cent of the vote, according to results announced by the commission’s chairman on Monday. His main challenger, Raila Odinga, won 48.9 per cent, with two minor candidates far behind.

By getting more than 50 per cent of the vote, Mr. Ruto has avoided a second-round runoff against Mr. Odinga. But the official results were thrown into question when they were disowned by four of the seven commissioners on Kenya’s election commission.

Vice-chair Juliana Cherera was among the four commissioners who held a press conference to criticize the final phase of the vote counting, complaining of the “opaque nature” of the process. She said the four commissioners would not attend the announcement because they “cannot take ownership” of the official results. They declined to answer questions from the media.

Former PM Odinga holds narrow lead in Kenyan election as digital results offer new transparency

Shortly before the results were announced, some of Mr. Odinga’s supporters stormed out of the vote-counting headquarters, hurling chairs and a speaker’s podium.

A senior official in Mr. Odinga’s campaign criticized the election commission. “We have intelligence reports that the system was penetrated and hacked,” the chief agent for the Odinga campaign, Saitabao Kanchory, told journalists. Some election officials broke the law and should be arrested, he said.

A court challenge by the Odinga campaign now seems inevitable, creating the risk of uncertainty in Kenya for weeks. An estimated 1,500 people were killed in post-election violence after the disputed 2007 election, and more than 100 died in violence after the 2017 election when the Supreme Court quashed the result because of irregularities.

Mr. Odinga’s running mate, Martha Karua, hinted at a possible court challenge. “It is not over till it is over,” she said in a tweet after the results were announced.

The election last Tuesday was the most transparent in Kenyan history, with vote tallies uploaded to a public website from more than 46,000 voting stations within hours. But the openness also led to a slow count, and some tally sheets were questioned by candidates or were difficult to verify.

Election commission chair Wafula Chebukati, announcing the results on Monday, said he had faced “intimidation and harassment.” One local election official, Daniel Musyoka, was reported missing last Thursday and has not been found.

Mr. Ruto, speaking after the results were formally certified, called for national unity and pledged that his opponents had nothing to fear. “There is no room for vengeance,” he said.

He said his campaign had been focused on policy issues, rather than the ethnic loyalties that have often influenced Kenya’s elections in the past. The public posting of the vote tally sheets was a “game-changer,” he said. “All you needed was a simple calculator and you had the results.”

In a press conference later, he dismissed the complaints by the four election commissioners, saying that they “pose no threat at all” to the legality of the official results.

The U.S. embassy in Kenya, in a statement late on Monday, said the official results were “an important milestone in the electoral process” and urged all parties to refrain from violence and settle any disputes through existing mechanisms.

Mr. Ruto’s victory could have unpredictable reverberations in Kenyan politics, since Mr. Odinga was seen as the candidate of the governing establishment and had been strongly supported by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta.

But both candidates have close links to Kenya’s powerful economic and political elites, causing cynicism among many Kenyans. Some analysts called it “an election about nothing.” Voter turnout was estimated at less than 70 per cent, far below the turnout of almost 80 per cent in the last election in 2017.

Mr. Ruto has been Mr. Kenyatta’s deputy president since 2013, but the two men had a falling out that led to Mr. Kenyatta reconciling with his former opponent, Mr. Odinga, in a famous handshake in 2018.

Mr. Odinga is a 77-year-old former political prisoner who was jailed for eight years when he fought for multiparty democracy in the 1980s. He later became a cabinet minister and prime minister and was the front-runner in opinion polls before the election.

Mr. Ruto, 55, has campaigned as the candidate of the young and the unemployed, portraying himself as an outsider who in his boyhood had peddled live chickens on the roadside.

He has called his supporters the “Hustler Nation” – poor and marginalized people who work odd jobs to survive – and he has promised a “hustler fund” to provide loans to small traders. But he has become a wealthy landowner in recent years, and observers have noted that the source of his wealth is murky.

In 2010, Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were among six Kenyans charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for their alleged role in instigating violence after the 2007 election. The two men joined forces in the 2013 election, becoming president and deputy president, and the charges were eventually dropped after the government refused to provide key documents to the international court and several prosecution witnesses were allegedly bribed or intimidated.

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