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Kenyans go to polls for tight presidential vote amid rigging claims

Kenyans go to polls for tight presidential vote amid rigging claims

Kenyan election officials were counting millions of ballots Friday in the country's closest-ever presidential race after an election praised as orderly and peaceful despite sporadic violence.
Thursday's contest pitted President Mwai Kibaki against his former ally, flamboyant opposition candidate Raila Odinga. Lines at polling stations stretched for miles in some areas, a sign Kenyans are increasingly confident their votes count as the continent swings firmly toward democracy.
Results were coming in from around the country and counting could stretch into Saturday, the electoral commission said. The election has been deemed too close to call.
Violence was a major concern in the run-up to the election, and several diplomats have expressed concern that a narrow victory on either side could lead to rioting by those who do not accept or trust the results. But Thursday's process was generally orderly, and no major disruptions were reported.
"It might be safe to say at this early stage that the polling was a success," the Daily Nation newspaper said in a Friday editorial.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey praised the vote's high turnout.
"At this point, we certainly don't have any results, though the basic mechanics of the election, so far, look to be fairly good," he said.
In the weeks and months before the election, however, clashes in western Kenya killed hundreds. An outlawed gang called Mungiki that had circulated leaflets in July calling on Kenyan youth to rise up against the government was blamed in a string of beheadings. And on Wednesday, authorities said opposition supporters had stoned three police officers to death in western Kenya, accusing them of being part of a government conspiracy to rig the elections.
"At this stage, after closing the polling stations, our observers have not obtained any evidence of fraud," Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, chief European Union election monitor, said Thursday. "But we should keep in mind that the counting and the tally are still ahead."
Kibaki won by a landslide victory in 2002, ending 24 years in power by Daniel arap Moi, who was constitutionally barred from extending his term. Moi's blanket use of patronage resulted in crippling mismanagement and a culture of corruption that plunged Kenya into an economic crisis.
Kibaki, 76, has been credited with helping boost this East African nation's economy, with a growth rate that is among the highest in Africa and a booming tourism industry. But his anti-graft campaign largely has been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.
Odinga, a 62-year-old former political prisoner under Moi, cast himself as an agent of change and a champion of the poor. But he has been accused of failing to do enough to help his constituents during 15 years as a lawmaker.
Odinga's main constituency is Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums, a maze of potholed tracks and ramshackle dwellings that is home to at least 700,000 people.
If Kibaki loses, he will be Kenya's first sitting president ousted at the ballot box. Analysts say the chance of a second transfer of power in two elections shows how Kenya's democracy is thriving. Others, however, say it heightens the potential for trouble.
To win, a presidential candidate has to get the most votes as well as garner at least 25 percent of votes in five of Kenya's eight provinces. Different provinces tend to be dominated by different tribes, so the rule adopted with the advent of multiparty politics in 1992 was aimed at ensuring a president has some support in most of the country.
Kenya's 14 million registered voters _ out of a population of 34 million _ also were electing 210 members of parliament and more than 2,000 local councilors.
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Associated Press Writers Tom Maliti in Othaya, Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Mombasa, and Katharine Houreld, Tom Odula and Laura-Claire Corson in Nairobi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-01 18:15 GMT+08:00