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After Year of Tumultuous Politics, Kenya Set for Multiparty Elections

OF all the African countries moving from one-party authoritarian rule to multiparty democracy, Kenya is perhaps the most closely watched internationally. Western nations have long favored this East African nation for its capitalist economy and military cooperation.

But in the year since President Daniel arap Moi bowed to foreign and domestic pressure to lift a ban on opposition parties and allow open elections, Kenya has seen some of its worst civil strife since independence in 1963.

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Now, with the Dec. 29 general election - the first multiparty ballot in more than 25 years - only a week away, charges persist that the government has manipulated the electoral process.

Opposition leaders and a monitoring team from the United States cite a lack of access for the opposition to state-controlled TV and radio, violent police crackdowns, and government abuse of a law requiring rally permits to limit public appearances by opposition candidates.

In light of these concerns, President Moi is likely to face public accusations of election fraud if he wins next week. Many Kenyans voice deep concern that opposition supporters might turn to violent protests if Moi wins.

But neither the opposition parties nor the US election monitoring team are ready to say that a Moi win is inevitable.

"We think there is still a chance [to win]," says Gitau Laban, an official with the Democratic Party (DP), one of the leading opposition parties.

A member of the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) monitoring team, which issued a report last week on Kenya's electoral process, says: "The sense at this point is that, while the process has not been totally clean, it's too early to write it off.

"There is no doubt in our mind there has been double registration, voter-card buying, and disenfranchisement of a significant number of people who have turned 18," the team member told the Monitor. "The electronic media have been used as a [government] party instrument; KANU [the ruling Kenya African National Union] has been throwing a lot of money around."

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Blame is not entirely on the government's shoulders. The opposition also has been doing some pre-election vote buying, but less than the government party, according to the IRI official. Opposition supporters as well as KANU backers have frequently thrown rocks to disrupt their opponents' rallies.

The IRI says the government and some opposition parties have "exploited ethnic differences in the name of competitive politics." IRI team spokeswoman Mary Coughlin says both sides have made irresponsible statements about the possibility of tribal violence over election results.

Government and opposition leaders accuse each other of fomenting tribal clashes - in which several hundred people have been killed and thousands left homeless - for political reasons.

An independent national survey of 812 registered voters, carried out earlier this month, found Moi slightly ahead of his nearest rival, DP candidate Mwai Kibaki, by 28.3 to 27.1 percent.

Kenneth Matiba, the candidate of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD)-Asili, got 15 percent. Oginga Odinga of the FORD-Kenya got 10.8 percent. (FORD was created as a national pressure group to force Moi to step down, but subsequently split into two political factions.)

Under Kenya's Constitution, a presidential candidate must garner at least 25 percent of the vote in five of the eight provinces to win. The rule, government officials say, makes a narrow, ethnic-based victory impossible; candidates must get votes nationwide.

But Moi's critics say the new law, passed this year, favors him. "KANU has been on the ground a long time," says a spokesman for FORD-Asili. "It's everywhere, not like us. All the other parties have the same problem [a lack of nationwide campaign machinery]."

Other sources say the 25 percent rule could work against Moi. If he fails to win enough votes, he will face a runoff. Opposition leaders express confidence that Moi lacks enough support to either avoid or win a second ballot.

The flawed voter-registration process also may hurt Moi, analysts say. The IRI heard complaints that up to 3 million Kenyans, a third of them young voters, were unable to register.

Blocking young voters is "a strategy the government is using because they know that age bracket is usually antigovernment," claims Edward Onyugi, a Moi critic. But the voter survey found that among male voters under 30, Moi received as much support as Mr. Kibaki, Mr. Matiba, and Mr. Odinga.

In a step that could help the opposition, Kenya Electoral Commission chairman Justice Z. Chesoni announced Friday that Kenyans who have sold or lost their voter cards may vote anyway.

The IRI says that some KANU candidates for parliament have been buying voter cards. Without Judge Chesoni's action, such card buying would have kept those voters from voting against KANU.

The problem will be communicating Chesoni's decision to illiterate voters in rural areas.

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