Moi stakes his claim to be a true democrat: James Roberts on the election that has thrown Kenya into tribal crisis

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KENYA'S opposition was yesterday counting the cost of having divided largely along tribal lines. The latest figures from Tuesday's election gave the three main opposition parties a combined total of almost 3 million votes, to just under 2 million for President Daniel arap Moi.

The President was leading his nearest rival, Kenneth Matiba of Ford-Asili, by more than 500,000 votes. With 173 of 188 parliamentary districts reporting, Mr Moi had 1,815,884 votes to 1,286,570 for Mr Matiba. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the Ford-Kenya leader, had 833,351 and Mwai Kibaki of the Democratic Party 821,292.

Mr Kibaki, Mr Oginga Odinga and Mr Matiba have formed a somewhat belated common front to try to force a new vote, rejecting the results of an election they claim was rigged. Mr Moi, 68, indicated that he would crack down on opposition parties if they carried out their threat to reject the results. 'I have restrained myself despite abuse for the last 12 months. This will now cease,' he said. The election campaign was marred by widespread political violence and charges of gerrymandering and vote buying. Dozens of people were killed and thousands displaced from their homes.

Mr Moi was forced into the election primarily by Western insistence that aid would be withheld until Kenya moved towards multi-party democracy. Yesterday the US ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, who during the campaign was outspoken in his criticism of the government's conduct of the election, said he found it difficult to support the opposition leaders' rejection of the results. 'The Kenyan people, who displayed so much patience and fortitude on the day in seeing the balloting completed, are the only heroes of this exercise, which overall was poorly run,' he said.

The American position appears to be that the first multi- party poll in Kenya for 26 years has brought the country nearer to democracy. The opposition in the new parliament will hold at least 75 seats out of 200. In such a parliament 'the will of the people can at least be articulated', Mr Hempstone said. European Community heads of diplomatic missions also urged opposition parties to pursue their complaints through constitutional means, including legal channels. A statement issued in Nairobi yesterday by the Danish embassy said the ambassadors 'share the view of most observers that, however flawed, the elections marked a major step forward in the ongoing democratisation process in Kenya'. The Commonwealth Observer Group said on Friday that the election process became 'increasingly positive' towards polling day and the results 'in many instances directly reflect, however imperfectly, the expression of the will of the people'.

In supporting his claim that the election was not rigged, Mr Moi pointed out that 15 of his cabinet ministers had lost their seats.

Mr Moi is certain of obtaining a working majority of more than 94 in the 188-seat parliament, which will be augmented by his nomination of 12 more members to the National Assembly. But this will still be short of the two-thirds majority required to pass important constitutional bills and amendments. Results have yet to be declared in a handful of constituencies. The three main opposition candidates declined to say whether their parties would take the seats they had won.

John Keen, the deputy leader of the Democratic Party, appeared yesterday to voice the views of many people in Nairobi, where anti-government feeling is strong. 'I told my colleagues Moi would win if we did not field one candidate for president but they would not listen,' Mr Keen said. 'The people kept faith in us and voted against Moi, but it is he who will form the next government.'

Many people fear violence will now replace dialogue in Kenyan politics. In a sign of concern over the crisis, the Commonwealth secretary-general, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, is due to arrive in Nairobi today for talks with all sides. Large numbers of armed police patrolled Nairobi last night.

(Photograph omitted)