Q&A: Kenya’s 2013 elections

Kenyans register as voters for the March 2013 general elections on 18 December 2012 in the capital Nairobi

Kenyan voters have been going to the polls in the first general election since the disputed contest of December 2007 unexpectedly exploded into violence.

During the elections Kenyans will choose a president, members of parliament and senators, county governors and members of the newly formed county assembly.

President Mwai Kibaki is not seeking re-election. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his partner in the uneasy coalition, is a front-runner in the presidential race. The post of prime minister - created in a peace agreement negotiated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - will cease to exist.

But the spectre of the last election still haunts the political climate. A month after the election, deputy prime minister and presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta will face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over the 2007 post-election violence. His running mate, William Ruto, has also been indicted by the court. The former antagonists, whose Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups were at the heart of the conflict, have now paired up to form a coalition challenging Mr Odinga.

Has the ICC indictment influenced the election campaign?
Raila Odinga (l) Uhuru Kenyatta (r) Raila Odinga (l) and Uhuru Kenyatta (r) are the main contenders

The upcoming trial at The Hague is the most debated issue and has overshadowed all other campaign issues - unemployment, infrastructural development, improved social services and even the threat of terrorism from Islamists from neighbouring Somalia.

It has divided the nation and highlighted the extent of ethnic affiliation with strong criticism of the court coming from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin groups. Mr Kenyatta is an ethnic Kikuyu while Mr Ruto is a Kalenjin.

The case has also exposed the extent of alarm from Western nations at the prospect of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto being elected. They in turn accuse foreign officials of trying to influence Kenyan voters.

The British high commissioner, Christian Turner, told Kenyan media that the UK would "remain impartial" but warned that the new government "must be ready to co-operate with ICC". Other diplomats have also publicly said that contact with ICC indictees could only be for "essential" purposes.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto present themselves as victims of a Western conspiracy, and portray Mr Odinga as a stooge of the West and architect of their indictment.

What is the likelihood of violence?

The presidential candidates have promised to concede defeat if they are not declared winners. The government has made efforts to keep hate speech under control. The police force is being expanded to reinforce high-risk areas and the country's vibrant civil rights community has pursued an aggressive campaign calling on Kenyans to rise above the politics of ethnicity. US President Barack Obama addressed Kenyans by video, saying the polls were "a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of tearing apart".

However the pre-election mood has been dominated by widespread concern that the root of the crisis - ethnic rivalry - has not been completely eradicated. Human Rights Watch warned that the "underlying causes of past election-related violence remain in place".

How does the system work?

Following changes made to the political system the country will have its first bicameral parliament since 1966.

Long-Term Observers (LTOs) of the European Union Election Observation Mission take a look at the Kenyan map The international community is closely watching Kenya's election

Presidential candidates must be Kenyans by birth and not hold foreign citizenship.

The winning candidate must get more than 50% of the total votes cast and at least 25% of votes in half of the 47 counties. If there is no clear winner, a second round of voting will take place, probably on 11 April.

Official results for the first round will be announced by 11 March by the electoral commission. The new president will be sworn in on 26 March. In the event of a second round, the president-elect will take the oath on 30 April.

Voters must be over 18 years old. They must also not have been convicted of an election offence in the five years preceding the poll. Some 14.3 million people out of the targeted 18 million have registered to vote.

Polling stations will open from 06:00 to 17:00 local time (03:00-14:00 GMT), and official results should start trickling in on the same day.

The newly created election body - the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission - will announce official results. But the Supreme Court has the final say on the presidential vote. There will also be observers from the European Union, the US and other African countries.

Who are the main presidential candidates?

There are eight presidential aspirants. The three main candidates - listed below in alphabetical order - are sons of former prominent politicians and are expected to win the bulk of the votes. They have all promised to "transform" Kenya. But the contest is essentially a two-horse race between Prime Minister Odinga and Mr Kenyatta.

  • Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi (Amani Coalition): One of the two deputy prime ministers, his father was a powerful former minister from the populous Luhya ethnic group. Born in September 1960, the soft-spoken candidate is seen as a potential kingmaker in the event of a run-off. He enjoys the support of former President Daniel arap Moi and allies of President Kibaki.
  • Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (Jubilee Coalition): the founding president's son, he is also a deputy prime minister and has featured in Forbes magazine as one of the richest Africans. His Kikuyu ethnic group is the largest in Kenya. He stood for presidency in 2002 but lost by a large margin to fellow Kikuyu Mwai Kibaki. Mr Kenyatta was born in October 1961 and has promised to "transform" Kenya.
  • Raila Amollo Odinga (Coalition for Reforms and Democracy - Cord): Currently prime minister, he is making his third bid for president. His father, the country's first vice-president, famously fell out with the founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, setting the tone for decades-long rivalry between the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups. Born in 1945, Mr Raila studied mechanical engineering in then East Germany. He has a fanatical following in his native western region of Nyanza. He also has support in many other parts of the country, but remains unpopular in central Kenya. His coalition brings together three main parties and 11 minor ones. Mr Odinga has promised "a radical, reforming and responsible administration".
  • The other candidates are: Mohammed Abduba Dida (Alliance of Real Change party), Martha Karua (National Rainbow Coalition-Kenya), Peter Kenneth (Eagle Coalition), Prof James ole Kiyiapi (Restore and Rebuild Kenya party) and Paul Muite (Safina party).
What about the media?

Local language radios were accused of propagating hate speech that laid the ground for the post-election violence. A journalist from a local station is one of the four people facing the ICC trial. The Media Council of Kenya has now launched guidelines to help journalists provide impartial coverage.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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