NAIROBI - Kenyan presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta opened an early lead as ballots were counted on Tuesday in an election that brought out millions of voters despite pockets of violence that killed at least 15 people.
The deputy prime minister, who faces international charges of crimes against humanity linked to the last election, was provisionally ahead of Prime Minister Raila Odinga by 53 to 42 percent with about half the votes counted.
But Kenyatta could still be overhauled as the count goes on in a vote Kenyans hope will restore their nation's image as one of Africa's most stable democracies after the bloodshed five years ago.
Although voting passed off broadly peacefully with a big turnout, the real test will be whether the candidates and their backers accept the result, after the disputed 2007 vote touched off ethnic blood-letting that killed more than 1,200 people.
"Nobody should celebrate, nobody should complain," election commission chairman Isaac Hassan told journalists, saying work was going on to resolve glitches and speed up the count. "We therefore continue to appeal for patience from the public.
The commission says provisional results may not be tallied until Wednesday, meaning an official declaration will not come until then or later.
Kenyatta's lead has held overnight but about 60 percent of polling stations have yet to report. Odinga's camp said counting in their strongholds had not been completed yet and a debate over the fate of a sizeable number of rejected votes could help shift the balance
The United States and Western donors have watched the vote closely, concerned about the stability of a nation seen as a regional ally in the fight against militant Islam.
They also worry about what to do if Kenyatta wins, because of the charges he faces at the International Criminal Court (ICC) related to the violence five years ago.
With memories of that violence still fresh, many Kenyans are determined to prevent a repeat and have vowed to accept the outcome, as have the candidates.
"People should be patient; in 2007 Mr Odinga was leading against Mwai Kibaki in preliminary results, the following day when we woke up, things turned upside down and Kibaki won the elections. I believe the same thing would happen," said Christopher Otieno, 31, a seller of household wares.
Investors breathed a sigh of relief after voting passed off calmly, initially strengthening the Kenyan shilling against the U.S. dollar. The shilling later lost some of its gains after the slow count cast doubt on whether a first-round victor would emerge. Analysts said an outright win would be preferred to a run-off, which would prolong uncertainty.
The inspector general of the Kenyan police, David Kimaiyo, told a news conference he would not allow demonstrations anywhere in the country over delays in releasing the election results because of concerns protests could turn violent.
According to the election commission's provisional tally, Kenyatta's led by 53 percent of votes counted to Odinga's 42 percent by late afternoon, based on a tally of more than 5 million votes.