NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s election commission posted complete results early Saturday showing that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta prevailed in the country’s presidential elections by the slimmest of margins, winning 50.03 percent of the vote.
That result is likely to bring controversy in Kenya and an almost certain legal challenge from Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Kenyatta needed to break the 50 percent barrier to avoid a runoff with Odinga, but he did so by only 4,099 votes out of more than 12.3 million cast.
Monday’s presidential vote was the first since Kenya’s 2007 election sparked two months of tribe-on-tribe violence after a disputed election win was claimed by President Mwai Kibaki. More than 1,000 people were killed in attacks that included machetes, bows and arrows and police firearms.
A win by Kenyatta could greatly affect Kenya’s relations with the West. Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in directing some of Kenya’s 2007 postelection violence. His running mate, William Ruto, faces similar charges.
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The U.S. has warned of “consequences” if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father, wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would have only essential contact with the Kenyan government if Kenyatta is president.
In order to win outright, Kenyatta must not only get more than 50 percent of the vote but also must garner at least 25 percent of the vote in 24 out of Kenya’s 47 provinces. Because of the way the election commission announced results, it was difficult to immediately determine if Kenyatta passed that bar.
Diplomats said they believed Odinga was not likely to protest the vote in a manner that would increase the chances of violence, but rather honor his pledge to respect the result and petition the courts with any grievances. Odinga scheduled a news conference for later Saturday.
The election outcome is being closely watched by the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is larger than any American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya’s strong role in U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. also has military forces stationed here near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the linchpin of East Africa’s economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.
Kenyatta’s International Criminal Court trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague, Netherlands, for much of his five-year term. Another option is, as president, to decide not to attend the trial. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya’s standing with the West.