Old guard crumbles as votes counted in Kenya

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The Independent Online

Senior members of Kenya's political old guard were swept from power last night and the opposition challenger Raila Odinga threatened to complete the rout by unseating President Mwai Kibaki.

At least 12 cabinet ministers lost their seats, many of them mzees old men who have dominated politics in Kenya since the country won independence from the United Kingdom in 1963. The high-profile casualties included Vice-President Moody Awori, 80, the Defence minister James Njenga Karume, 78, and the Roads minister Simon Nyachae, 75. In the race for the presidency, unofficial tallies gathered by the main television stations showed Mr Odinga ahead by more than a million votes with more than half of the ballots counted.

However, official results from the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) were far more limited. By early evening it had released results from just 28 of the country's 210 constituencies, which showed the incumbent leading by 175,000 votes. Accusations flew from Mr Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party and civil society groups that results were coming in too slowly.

"In this era of technology it is surprising that ECK seems to be moving at a snail's pace," civil society groups said in a statement. "[It] must do better ... otherwise a situation will be created where sections of Kenyans will dispute the results."

Some opposition politicians and diplomats raised fears that Mr Kibaki's party was involved in ballot rigging. One Western diplomat said the turnout in Central province, a Kibaki stronghold, was "ridiculously high" 95 per cent compared with 70 to 75 per cent elsewhere. "It is extremely suspicious," said the diplomat.

The ruling Party of National Unity strenuously denied the allegations. "The work of counting and recounting votes takes a long time. We had 95 per cent turnout in Central because people are so happy with the President," said a spokesman, Ngari Gituku.

But many Kenyans said the wave of oustings of high-profile ministers showed satisfaction levels with the President had drained away.

"Kibaki should have seen this wave ahead of him," said Peter Wachira, a technician in Ngong. "He didn't bring on board the younger politicians. Now we are voting out the old ones."

There were also signs that many in east Africa's largest economy had wearied of the ever-prevalent corruption in the upper echelons of power. Ministers linked to high-profile corruption cases lost their seats, including the former finance minister David Mwiraria, who was banned last week from visiting the UK because of corruption allegations.

Close allies of the former president Daniel arap Moi, including the influential businessman Nicholas Biwott, and Mr Moi's sons, Gideon, Raymond and Jonathan were also unseated. Also among the casualties was Kenya's Nobel laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai, although she had been widely expected to be ousted from her constituency in the highlands of Teti. While lauded overseas, at home the electorate complained she had failed to deliver services. She lost the nomination for the government coalition last month and defected to a smaller party.

Salim Lone, a senior aide to Mr Odinga, said the election was turning into "a whitewash". Mr Odinga, he said, was very relaxed, and had begun to discuss plans for his inauguration.

Those plans may have to be put on hold. One election official said last night that vote counting might not be over until Monday. At the last election in 2002 the results were announced by early afternoon the day after polling. Bradley Austin at the International Foundation for Election Systems, a US-based organisation advising election authorities, said that the ECK had been overwhelmed by the high turnout.

"It is the best turnout Kenya's ever had. The ECK wants to make sure they're getting it right," he said.

Turnout was predicted at just over 70 per cent of the 14.2 million registered voters up from 57 per cent in 2002. There were also an additional 1.8 million voters registered this time.

President Kibaki's victory in 2002, defeating Mr Moi's handpicked successor in Kenya's first truly democratic election, was supposed to herald a new dawn in Kenyan politics. But many of the faces in power remained the same. Mr Kibaki himself had been vice-president and finance minister under Mr Moi.

Some voters fear that the same may be about to happen again, even if Mr Odinga is eventually declared the winner. The 62-year-old was secretary general of Mr Moi's Kanu party until 2002 and many of the leading figures in his campaign are former Moi ministers.

But history would be made. President Kibaki would become the first of Kenya's three post-independence leaders to have been ousted at the ballot box.

The old men, and one woman, who lost

* Moody Awori

Known to most Kenyans as Uncle Moody, he served as a minister in Daniel arap Moi's government in the 1980s and 1990s before joining the opposition in 2002. Was implicated in the Anglo-Leasing corruption scandal in 2006 but refused to resign as vice-president.



* David Mwiraira

Mwai Kibaki's finance minister until 2006 when he was accused of corruption and recorded trying to prevent Kenya's anti-corruption leader, John Githongo, from carrying out investigations. Forced to resign but returned to cabinet a year later.



* Simon Nyachae

Former senior civil servant in the governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. Encouraged young men to fire arrows at opposition leaders the day after Mr Kibaki had called for peaceful elections.



* Another who might join them ...

Mwai Kibaki

Elected into Kenya's first parliament in 1963, Mr Kibaki was a minister by 1965 and never looked back. Finance minister and vice-president under Mr Moi, he quit government and stood against him in 1997. Won in 2002 as head of National Rainbow Coalition.



* High profile loser ...

Wangari Maathai

Nobel peace laureate she may be, but Ms Maathai's global travels meant she was rarely seen in parliament or her constituency. After failing to get a nomination under the ruling party banner, she stood for a lesser-known party and lost.

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