Former President Goodluck Jonathan is in Kenya as the head of observer mission.
(CNN)Kenyans are voting Tuesday in crucial elections as outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to hand over power to a new leader.
About 22 million Kenyans have registered to vote, the country’s electoral body (IEBC) said, and polls opened from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET Monday to 10 a.m. ET Tuesday).
Voters across the country began queuing as early as 2 a.m. local time in some locations, according to local media.
Analysts say the race is close with neither of the leading candidates polling significantly higher than the other. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the election will go into a run-off for the first time in Kenyan history.
Who are the main candidates?
Tuesday’s presidential election, according to opinion polls, is considered a two-horse race between Deputy President William Ruto, 55, and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, 77.
Odinga is a businessman and politician who served as prime minister of Kenya for five years following the disputed presidential election of December 2007 that resulted in widespread protests and violence, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.
Odinga is part of Kenya’s political dynasty; his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was the first vice president of independent Kenya.
He earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in East Germany in 1970 and was a one-time lecturer at the University of Nairobi after his studies abroad.
He is participating in the poll for the fifth and final time, he says after failing at his four previous attempts.
Odinga has received the backing of former rival President Kenyatta, who overlooked his deputy Ruto for the top job.
Although the election would bring about a change of administration, Ruto and Odinga’s affiliation with the present government does not necessarily provide a new political phenomenon, argues analyst Odhiambo.
“Among the front runners, people are keen to balance between what is perceived as continuity and freshness within a continuity,” Odhiambo said.
“Ruto is the deputy president and part of the current government. There’s a perception that Odinga could be an extension of the current president because of the support the president has given him.”
What are the issues?
Among the key pressing issues for the electorate is myriad economic problems ranging from growing debt to high food and fuel prices and mass youth unemployment.
Parts of the country are also suffering from a debilitating drought that threatens to exacerbate growing insecurity issues.
Analyst Manyora says many Kenyans, especially young people, are disillusioned with the government and might boycott the elections.
“There are things that might affect the turnout. One is the disillusionment in the country with the high cost of living, the helplessness and hopelessness among the youth, unemployment, poverty levels, and the people not seeing anything that the politicians are doing for them,” the analyst said.
He added that Kenya’s problems should ordinarily spur his countrymen to vote for the right candidates irrespective of tribe, but they aren’t “angry enough.”
“One would expect that because of these problems Kenyans will turn out in large numbers at the polls to express their anger at the high cost of living by voting out those responsible … I don’t think Kenyans are at a point where they are angry enough to translate the anger into political action,” Manyora told CNN.
The role of ethnicity
Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, and Luo are four of the East African country’s most populous ethnic groups.
Outgoing leader Kenyatta is among three of four Kenyan presidents that have emerged from the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group since the country gained independence in 1963.
“The problem in this country is that tribal considerations supersede everything else … Most of the votes cast would be based on tribe; very few votes will come from critical voters,” analyst Manyora said.