Salim Lone: We Kenyans are the victims of an outrage

This country won't accept that the man it knows won the election should be kept from power

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The lights went out on Kenya last night. In what was easily the most tense and exciting moment in our history, every Kenyan with access to a television sat riveted in front of it. They were watching the unfolding drama of the Electoral Commission reading out the last set of constituency results that would determine who would be the country's next president.

Vigorous objections were being raised by the opposition Orange Democratic Movement to the blatant doctoring of the election figures that had been agreed on jointly at the constituency by all political parties and forwarded to election headquarters for national tallying. Suddenly, the screens of all television channels went dark, except on the government-owned broadcaster. A couple of hours later, as ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga was doing a live press conference, the plug was again pulled. Now the media has been banned from doing live broadcasts of any news events.

These are very dark days for a country which was convinced that the great democratic enterprise that Kenyans seized with gusto after the ousting of the autocratic and universally vilified Daniel arap Moi's would not be allowed to falter. The government has stolen an election that had been the freest and most exhilarating in our history.

It had been clear from the outset, with every single poll showing Mr Odinga ahead of President Mwai Kibaki nationally, that the government was determined to hang on to power and would not countenance a defeat. News reports daily were filled with allegations of widespread government rigging, through tampering with voters' registers, purchase of voters' cards, printing fake ballot papers and directly and illegally bribing voters.

And so the results from 48 of the 210 constituencies were published without supporting documentation, or with use of figures which were grossly inflated from the ones filed from the field. The electoral commission has blithely refused to address this issue and comprehensively undermined its credibility.

As the European Union observer mission indicated in its report, its representative in Molo in the former White Highlands witnessed the recording of 50,000 votes for President Kibaki, but the result announced in Nairobi gave the president nearly 75,000 votes. Overall, ODM asserts that at least 750,000 votes were stolen, and the final 230,000 margin announced for Mr Kibaki camouflaged a 500,000 vote victory for Mr Odinga.

But at constituency level, where doctoring results is much harder, voters ejected an astounding 20 of Mr Kibaki's Cabinet Ministers. And his own party won only 35 seats in the new Parliament, while Mr Odinga's ODM has at least 100. This is an astounding rejection of the government, and undermines any claim that it could have legitimately won the presidential election. More important, it will be extremely difficult to govern a disenchanted nation. Kenyans are not going to accept that the man they are convinced won the election should be kept from assuming power. There is bitter anger in much of the nation, and violence has claimed scores of lives in the last 24 hours.

Mr Odinga has rightly laid the anger and the crisis at the government's illegal actions but appealed strongly for calm and asked that people's anger should not be channelled into violence. He does not accept this presidential result and promises a blistering national campaign to unseat Mr Kibaki constitutionally through mass protests and other political pressure.

His support has actually grown as the extent of the rigging has become public, and even some of his opponents are horrified that such blatant fraud was carried out. Few thought this would ever come to Kenya.

This election was genuinely historic. Kenyans were able to challenge power and wealth and unseat, for the time in our history, a sitting president. The country for the past 44 years has been run by an elitist oligarchy which is frequently tribal, and has grown increasingly incompetent. It could not finesse an election steal thank God.

The election victory for Mr Odinga also shattered the notion that ours is a deeply divided country which lives along tribal lines. Six of our eight provinces united in their support for Mr Odinga. In the process they tore down the walls that have divided Kenya for 40 years. The international community must get Mr Kibaki to find a mechanism through which to hand over power to Mr Odinga. Mark Malloch Brown, with his African origins and portfolio and a vast experience in governance issues from the UN, must step to the plate and push for the rightful president to lead Kenya forward.

The writer is Raila Odinga's director of communications salimlone@yahoo.com

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