Kenya opposition lead as delays raise tempers

Kenya’s opposition challenger, Raila Odinga, led on Saturday in the race to govern East Africa’s largest economy but tempers flared over the slow pace of vote tallying in the incumbent’s strongholds.

In a third day of ballot counting, Odinga, heir of a wealthy nationalist hero, led President Mwai Kibaki, many of whose allies, including a dozen ministers, lost in their parliamentary races in what had all the hallmarks of a protest vote.

By 6am local time, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) released results from half of Kenya’s 210 constituencies, with Odinga leading by 2 755 111 votes to 2 172 440 for Kibaki.

Taken together, that is more than half the eight to 11-million votes thought to have been cast from among Kenya’s 14-million registered voters. The ECK said it had no firm turnout figure, but that it would range between 60% to 80%.

But the latest results did not include many constituencies in the Central and Eastern provinces, where Kibaki is expected to dominate in voting that will largely follow tribal lines.

Both Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) demanded the electoral commission explain the delay.

”We suspect that some parties may be deliberately interfering with the process so as to … create a false sense of an impending victory for ODM’s presidential candidate,” PNU said in a statement.

PNU said it expected Kibaki to win by 300 000 to 500 000 votes, based on tallies from its voting agents.

ODM, which for weeks has accused the government of plotting to rig the polls, said the hold-ups were part of a plot.

”Why are the results from Central not in yet? Our agents are telling us the lights have been switched off … We think there’s something fishy going on,” ODM’s William Ruto said after shouting down an ECK official at a news conference.

In unofficial, partial tallies broadcast on three Kenyan TV stations, Odinga’s lead narrowed. KTN had Odinga with 3,9-million and the president with 3,5-million.

Meanwhile, protests and looting flared in Kenyan opposition strongholds on Saturday as delays announcing a presidential election result prompted rigging claims in east Africa’s economic power.

In western Kisumu city, in the Nyanza homeland of Odinga, hundreds of angry youths took to the streets, lighting fires, ransacking shops and blocking roads.

Local residents said one person died.

And in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, also a hotbed of Odinga support, police deployed as rival ethnic gangs faced off.

”We are demonstrating against the delay in announcing the results. We are sensing a plan by the government to rig the elections. We will not accept this,” taxi cyclist Eric Ochieng (18) told Reuters as smoke rose over Kisumu.

Witnesses said looters in Kisumu were targeting shops belonging to members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe. Nyanza is home to the Luo tribe of Odinga.

In Nairobi’s vast Kibera slum, Reuters witnesses said shooting broke out in the morning. A small group of armed police stood between two gangs — one Luo, the other Kikuyu — who were brandishing machetes, catapults and clubs.

Out with the old

The ECK had earlier said it expects a record turnout for the nation of 36-million, which has held four multiparty polls, of which only two are considered truly democratic.

If Odinga (62) wins, he would make history by becoming the first candidate to oust a sitting president in Kenya, which has had only three leaders in four decades of independence.

Kibaki (76), who went into politics under founding father Jomo Kenyatta, came to power in landmark elections. The 2002 win threw out a party that had ruled for 39 years and became synonymous with corruption, oppression and inaction.

Odinga has capitalised on discontent among some Kenyans who feel Kibaki has not made good on promises to eradicate graft and change the Constitution.

Kibaki narrowly trailed in pre-vote polls, despite providing 5% annual growth and delivering a host of popular measures including free education and local development.

Analysts said it was still too early to call the result of what has become Kenya’s tightest race since independence from Britain in 1963, owing to the intricacies of the country’s tendency to vote along tribal and geographic lines.

One verdict was clear — Kenyans were unhappy with many of their sitting legislators, who were roundly criticised for laziness except when it came to voting themselves pay raises.

A dozen ministers lost their jobs, and angry constituents rejected 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai.

Diplomats have praised the election process so far as smooth and largely peaceful, despite rigging accusations by both sides and some sporadic violence typical of Kenya’s polls since 1992. — Reuters

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