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Why Kenya's Elections Fell Short

KENYA'S election last week was neither fully free nor fully fair. The election, Kenya's first national, multiparty contest since 1963, was demanded a year ago by Western aid donors after years of repeated human rights violations, imprisonments without trial, state-initiated brutality, and rampant corruption.

The conduct of the election cannot justify the renewal of assistance to the government of President Daniel arap Moi, who received the most votes (about 36 percent of the total cast).

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President Moi's Kenya African National Union (KANU) also won a slim majority of the 188 elected parliamentary seats. Although the combined forces of the opposition received almost twice as many presidential votes as KANU, they failed to defeat Moi's party in several key constituencies.

In the 1990s, African opposition movements usually overwhelm autocratic leaders once multiparty competition is legalized. In Kenya, however, after the newly established Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) had quickened the pace of reform in 1991, it split into two groups, FORD-Kenya and FORD-Asili (or "original" in Swahili). Oginga Odinga, a Luo, became the candidate of the first group and Kenneth Matiba, a southern Kikuyu, led the second.

Personal ambition and mistrust caused that split. Then Mwai Kibaki, another prominent opposition leader, formed the Democratic Party. He is a northern Kikuyu. Four other hopefuls also decided to run against Moi.

By fracturing the opposition, the forces of democracy failed to accomplish what their counterparts did so successfully in Zambia in 1991.

Messrs. Matiba, Odinga, and Kibaki together gained more than 3 million votes to Moi's 1.8 million. Yet Moi remains in power and KANU's 29-year hold on Kenya remains unbroken.

Elements of registration and election fraud could have contributed to Moi and KANU's victory. It seems likely that significant numbers of KANU adherents managed to register illegally in key marginal constituencies (like Molo and Nakuru Town) instead of casting their ballots in safe KANU seats nearby.

KANU followers were bused into Nakuru and Molo when it came time to vote. In at least one polling area thousands of backers of Moi had listed the same single post office box number as their address.

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In other constituencies the opposition alleges government-sponsored intimidation. In as many as 14 constituencies opposition candidates claim that they were prevented physically from handing in their nomination papers.

Consequently, these seats were declared uncontested wins for KANU. On the eve of the poll, too, several opposition candidates defected to KANU. Bribery was suspected.

On election day itself, 154 officially accredited international observers from the United States, Canada, Britain, and 20 other countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia found only scattered cases of blatant fraud (vote buying or ballot box tampering) and some unfair influencing of illiterate voters.

For the most part, however, the serious glitches and inconveniences of election day on Dec. 29 were unlikely to have been part of a government plot, as the opposition alleges. Once the vote tally began in each constituency, no tabulators could leave their positions for fear of tampering. So in many constituencies the process of counting took two or three full days and nights.

The opposition parties and a leading local observing group have rejected the result. The US-sponsored observers and the Commonwealth team did not go that far, acknowledging many irregularities and anomalies without being willing to invalidate the election's results.

In two dozen constituencies the results were influenced, if not manipulated, by KANU during registration and, possibly, during the electoral process as well. Victories in those constituencies gave KANU its working majority.

However the Kenyans choose to regard the results of their election, too many questions remain about its overall conduct for the West to resume aid. A rerun of the election in at least some constituencies will be necessary before the Moi-KANU victory can be accepted internationally.

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