Earlier, supporters of the National Democratic Party candidate, Raila Odinga, had danced through the streets of Kamukunji, one of Nairobi's notorious slums, cheering and singing his praises while passing around home-brewed beer. But three hours after the start, he too had yet to appear.
President Daniel arap Moi, 73, who is seeking to extend his 19 years in office, must feel himself blessed in his opponents. Disorganised and bitterly divided, the opposition handed him the presidency on a plate in 1992, when he called Kenya's first multi-party elections under heavy pressure from Western donor countries. Despite winning only 36 per cent of the vote, Mr Moi triumphed easily over the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, an umbrella group that had enjoyed majority support before splitting into rival factions with rival presidential candidates. Tomorrow, when the polling booths open again, he will seek to prolong his personality cult for another five years.
Kenya already has a Moi airport, a Moi university, many Moi streets and avenues and a Moi Day, when everybody has a holiday. Not everybody is full of praises, however: according to Amnesty International and other human rights groups, opponents of his government have been harassed, beaten up, imprisoned - without trial or on trumped-up charges - and, in some cases, murdered.
Despite these unsubtle methods of government, Kenya remains a stable country by the standards of its region, with the most developed economy in central Africa and a surprisingly free and vocal press. For years the West regarded Mr Moi as an important Cold War ally, but since the collapse of communism Kenya's growing corruption has set him at odds with the World Bank's insistence on new economic discipline in Africa. Opponents claim that Mr Moi's Kenyan African National Union (Kanu) only won the 1992 elections following a vote-buying spree, funded by two closely related scandals in which an estimated pounds 297m was drained from the central bank, reducing the value of Kenya's currency by more than 30 per cent. They also allege that Kanu used ethnic cleansing, ballot rigging, colonial-era restrictions on free speech and intimidation by police and thugs to steal votes five years ago.
Foreign diplomats say there is more to Mr Moi's survival than manipulation and corruption, however. With the incumbent out in front, it is up to the opposition to unite and close the gap, but they have failed. Three of their number - Raila Odinga, Mwai Kibaki and Michael Wamalwa - are former senior Kanu members trying to build on ethnic bases within the Luo, Kikuyu and Luhya tribes respectively. Few Kenyans see them as inherently different from their counterparts in government - Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki are widely regarded as opportunists, while Mr Wamalwa has recently been tainted by association in two major financial scandals.
The fourth candidate, Charity Ngilu, is seen as the most likely to upset Mr Moi's calculations. This is because Kenya's constitution, crafted to keep the three main tribes from monopolising power, specifies that a successful presidential candidate must win more than 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces.
Mrs Ngilu's Kamba tribe holds the balance of power in the Eastern Province, one of the five in which Mr Moi (a Kalenjin from the west) reached the 25 per cent mark five years ago. If she takes the Eastern Province and he fails to pick up enough support elsewhere, Mr Moi will face a second round of voting against whichever candidate finishes second - it is between Mrs Ngilu and Mr Kibaki.
With Mr Moi's popularity never lower, many believe that he could well lose such a contest - if it were fair, and if he actually allowed it to happen. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely to be dangerous for Kenya.Reuse content