Corruption is clear winner in Kenya poll

Kenyans voted yesterday in a poll disfigured by blatant corruption. Ed O'Loughlin watched chaotic scenes of ballot rigging in the key town of Kitui.

By 10am yesterday, the electoral commission offices in Kitui looked as if they had been ransacked by an angry mob. They had. In the midst of the wreckage stood the local candidate, Charity Ngilu, the first woman to challenge the incumbent president, Daniel arap Moi. It was clear, she said, that the voting in her own constituency was being flagrantly rigged in favour of Mr Moi and his ruling Kenyan African National Union (Kanu).

"They have more ballot papers here than there should be," she said, brandishing the evidence. "They have not delivered them to the polling stations. They have election cards here without stamps. They have everything they need here to make more votes for somebody".

Minutes later, in an adjacent office, the constituency returning officer, Frederick Mutegi, was struggling to persuade Mrs Ngilu and her angry supporters that there was an innocent explanation for the hundreds of voter registration cars they had just found in the bottom of his desk drawer.

"These cards belong to registered voters who did not collect them," he told anybody who would listen. "I was keeping the cards for them but they did not come."

This failed to assuage one of Mrs Ngiulu's top election agents, who punched Mr Mutegi in the face and had to be restrained from jumping over the desk and throttling him.

Seizing the moment, Mrs Ngilu grabbed the ballot papers and voting cards and locked in the boot of her old Peugeot. A strange, low-speed chase then ensued, until Mrs Ngilu, trailed by her cheering supporters and foreign journalists, was cornered at a petrol station by a truckload of armed police.

After a prolonged stand-off watched by Mrs Ngilu's supporters, the matter seemed resolved; the car would be driven back to the electoral commission and left there, with the boot still locked.

With widespread allegations of ballot-stuffing, vote-buying, intimidation and impersonation, Kenyan elections are not for the faint-hearted. Riots and fights are commonplace between youths loyal to rival candidates. Last night, police reported two more election-related killings in Nyanza province. Earlier this year, gangs of suspected Kanu supporters killed at least 50 people in the coastal region.

The violence stems mostly from ethnic divisions. Dominated at first by Jomo Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe and later by Mr Moi's Kalenjin tribe, Kanu has controlled Kenya since independence in 1963.

Kenya's electoral commission, which the opposition accuses of bias, says it expects the count to be finished by tomorrow. With his experience, and access to cash, President Moi remains the firm favourite.