On 27 December 2007 some ten million Kenyans went to the polls in what was generally anticipated to be the most hotly contested and close-run presidential, parliamentary and civic elections in the country's 45 years since emerging from British colonial rule. The register of voters had been swelled since the previous elections by several million new registrations, many of them young first-time voters, and the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) had doubled the number of voting stations to 27 555, arranged in some 20 000 polling centres.
Campaigning at all three levels of the contest had been vigorous, characterised by robust language occasionally lapsing into ethnic hate-speech and deteriorating into violence. Since the constitutional referendum in 2005, political discourse in Kenya had been sustained at a high pitch and tended to focus on the presidential contest. The two main presidential candidates, incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and former ally Mr Raila Odinga, had led opposing sides in the referendum, which was won handsomely by the Odinga side. It was therefore hardly surprising that a prominent feature of the ODM parliamentary and presidential campaigns was the claim that only rigging could prevent their taking power at the elections. This was particularly serious as public comment on the manner and timing of the appointment of the majority of electoral commissioners during 2007 had already cast a shadow of suspicion over the ECK's impartiality. State power in Kenya, harking back to the country's colonial past and decades of one-party rule, remained vested in a centralised executive exercising control through a network of provincial administrators/district commissioners, a vocal but relatively powerless legislature and a compliant judiciary exercising few checks and balances. The presidency was, rightly, seen as the ultimate political prize. Elections in Kenya have been characterised by intensified awareness of ethnic divides and deep-seated historical land grievances, especially among rural communities. President Kibaki, heading the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket and drawing his support mainly from the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities of Central and central Eastern provinces, campaigned principally on his socio-economic record.