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Runoff election likely in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A slow ballot count in the presidential vote raised questions yesterday about the election process. A decision involving hundreds of thousands of rejected ballots made it appear likely the election will be decided in a runoff.

Nearly 330,000 ballots -- the number keeps rising -- had been rejected for not following election rules, raising criticism of voter education efforts. The election commission chairman announced late yesterday that those spoiled ballots, as they are called here, will count in the overall vote total. That makes it very difficult, given the tight race, for either top candidate to reach the 50 percent mark needed to win outright.

Kenya's 2010 constitution, passed after 2007-08 election violence killed more than 1,000 people, says a candidate wins the presidency if he or she has "more than half of all votes cast in the election." That clause made the decision on the definition of "cast" key.

Partial returns showed an early lead for Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president, who faces charges at the International Criminal Court. The camp of Prime Minister Raila Odinga told supporters that more of their strongholds have yet to be counted from Monday's largely peaceful vote. Observers said Odinga was likely to make gains.

"If Odinga's performance improves, as seems likely, and with this decision on the rejected votes, then it's inevitable there will be a runoff," said Nic Cheeseman, a lecturer in African politics at Oxford University who is an official observer of the election.

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