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Media: President Kibaki losing Kenya vote

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki trailed his main rival on Friday in the race to lead East Africa’s biggest economy for the next five years, according to early tallies by local media.

Partial results from three main television stations all gave opposition challenger Raila Odinga — the son of a nationalist hero — a strong lead over his former ally, although a separate exit poll put Kibaki ahead in what many had forecast would be Kenya’s closest-ever election.

Were Odinga to win, this would make Kibaki the first of Kenya’s three sitting presidents to be ousted by the ballot box in the 44 years since the end of British colonial rule.

The unofficial results by the TV channels were compiled from tallies at counting centres. The latest, from KTN at 9.15am, gave Odinga 1 862 573 votes to 1 179 271 for Kibaki — representing about a third of ballots believed cast.

About 14-million Kenyans were eligible to vote, although turnout is expected to have been between eight and 10-million.

As official counts slowly reached a Nairobi conference centre ringed by armed guards, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) said provisional results would be announced throughout Friday, but that the process could stretch into Saturday.

”There’s no excuse for our field officers not to have sent us results that were announced by the media two hours ago,” said ECK commissioner Jack Tumwa. ”The country is getting restless.”

Officials had earlier given the outcome from just two of Kenya’s 210 constituencies. One chose Odinga and the other picked the president, both by large majorities in a reflection of the country’s deeply entrenched Kenyan tribalism.

The ECK said turnout looked to be the highest since multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1992. International observers said Thursday’s voting had gone smoothly, despite sporadic violence and allegations of rigging by both sides.

”The test for our democratic maturity is in the post-election period and how we conduct ourselves thereafter,” police boss Hussein Ali told a news conference.

”For the winners, we trust you will exercise magnanimity. For the losers … you can try another time.”

‘Envy of Africa’

An exit poll by the Institute for Education in Democracy, a respected NGO, gave the president 50,3% versus 40,7% for Odinga. But its figures were based on just 311 polling stations of a total of 27 000.

”It’s still too early to call,” Ngari Gituku, a spokesperson for Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, told Reuters.

Diplomats say the poll was only the second truly democratic one in a nation that votes largely on ethnic and geographic lines and spent 39 years under single-party rule broken only by Kibaki’s landslide victory in 2002.

Kibaki (76) wants a second five-year term before retiring to his highland tea farm after a political career that has spanned Kenya’s post-independence history.

With a record of average economic growth of 5%, he has the support of his Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s largest and most economically powerful, but trailed narrowly in pre-vote polls.

Odinga (62) wants to be the first in his Luo tribe to take the country’s top job.

That was the unrealised dream of his father, Kenya’s first vice-president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, whose falling out with founding President Jomo Kenyatta seeded the Luo-Kikuyu rivalry.

Should he win, Odinga will have to bring on board Kikuyu support and allay fears among some in business circles that the East Germany-educated businessman is a radical.

”The ECK has run elections with efficiency and independence that should be the envy of the rest of Africa,” the Daily Nation newspaper said in an editorial.

TV said various prominent figures were likely to lose their parliamentary seats, including the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and Vice-President Moody Awori, as well as the ministers of health, roads, information and foreign affairs.

Another big name, Kamlesh Pattni, a tycoon accused of being the architect of a graft scandal that nearly ruined Kenya’s economy, also looked set to lose his bid to win a Nairobi seat. — Reuters

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