Vote-rigging claim mars Kenya poll

KENYA'S election has been marred by opposition allegations of widespread vote rigging and accusations by President Daniel arap Moi that Western countries are using their push for democracy in his country to oppose his government.

The elections, the first multi- party vote in Kenya for 26 years, started slowly but remained peaceful yesterday and saw a heavy turnout among the country's 7.8 million registered voters. They were clouded, however, by a number of irregularities, including the lack in many places of an official stamp on completed ballots, late opening of polling stations, and reports of several attempts to bus in voters.

At stake were the presidency and 188 seats in parliament. As he voted, Mr Moi criticised Western countries which used an aid cut- off in November 1991 to force the move towards multi-party elections.

'They have starved us for 12 months,' he said. 'I have been mistreated by foreign correspondents and the Western world purporting to be fighting for democracy when in fact they are against me.'

Mr Moi, 68, was seen by most observers as the only candidate capable of winning the necessary 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces to gain the presidency. If all candidates fail to win the 25 per cent, there will be a run-off within 21 days.

The opposition, once united in an anti-Moi alliance, split over ethnicity and personal ambition.

There were reports yesterday from the coastal city of Mombasa of attempts on Sunday night to bus in Somali refugees as voters. About 70 miles north of Nairobi, in the heavily opposition Kangema constituency and in nearby Githigi, stronghold of the Kikuyu people, there was a shortage of official stamps at polling stations to authenticate completed ballot papers. The returning officer decided to continue the voting.

'We do not know if the votes will be invalidated,' said the Rev Jacob Ngobia, an election observer for the National Council of Churches of Kenya. If the un- stamped ballot papers were accepted, he said, it would make 'ballot stuffing' very easy.

Pollings stations near Muhoran, the rural stronghold of one of Mr Moi's principal opponents, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, opened five hours after the polling started. The Electoral Commission chairman, Judge Zacheus Chesoni, announced last night that polling stations that opened late would close late.

Before the election, the main opposition parties, including the Democratic Party (DP) and the two factions of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford), accused the government of bribery, intimidation and ethnic violence to ensure victory for the ruling Kenyan African National Union (Kanu). They said voter rolls from at least 20 constituencies were inflated by Kanu supporters bused in from other areas, and state resources, including vehicles and civil servants, were put at the service of Kanu.

The opposition's pre-election allegations were echoed in part by Western diplomats, the Commonwealth group of observers and the International Republican Institute. 'It's not a level playing field,' the United States ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, one of Mr Moi's strongest critics, said in a recent speech.

This year 800 people have died and at least 55,000 have been displaced in ethnic clashes in parts of Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces. A parliamentary committee accused the government of instigating the violence. Critics accused the government of a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' to ensure Mr Moi victory.

At least 20 Kanu candidates stood unopposed either because opposition aspirants withdrew or were prevented by pro-government thugs from presenting their nomination papers.

The opposition appeared in a combative mood yesterday, and many Kenyans were bracing for violence once the final results were announced, possibly today.

'If Moi is prepared to rig himself back into power, Kenyans will take care of him,' said the DP spokesman, James Kimani.

Mr Moi's main opponents were the leader of the DP, Mwai Kibaki, a former vice-president; the veteran opposition leader Oginga Odinga who leads Ford- Kenya; and Kenneth Matiba, the candidate of Ford-Asili who was once jailed for advocating multi- party elections. Their failure to agree on a united candidate was seen by most analysts as the death knell for opposition chances of toppling Mr Moi.

The President, who has ruled Kenya since 1979, grudgingly agreed to hold multi-party elections after Western countries cut off international aid flows worth about dollars 30m ( pounds 19m) per month.

(Photographs omitted)