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Police Guard Kenya Polling Stations

December 31, 1997

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Riot police armed with tear gas and batons guarded polling stations across Kenya, where weary election officials counted ballots for a second day today.

Tempers were short and turnout was light in a general election that was marred by riots, killings and accusations of vote-rigging. Five people died in political violence during the chaotic two days of voting that ended Tuesday.

It was unclear when final results would be available. Commission officials, insisting on anonymity, said an announcement might not be made before the weekend.

President Daniel arap Moi, 73, is seeking a fifth, five-year term in this east African nation’s third multiparty election since independence in 1963. His critics have blamed him for the corruption in this country of 29 million people _ costing Kenya international loans and leaving it with ruined roads, schools and hospitals.

In county halls, schools and churches, the tedious job of counting ballots continued all night.

At downtown Nairobi’s Charter Hall, 101 of 332 ballot boxes had been sliced open with a kitchen knife and their contents tallied by Wednesday morning. The ballots were sorted into stacks by a dozen clerks while frazzled party representatives grumbled at them and objected repeatedly.

``With the speed my clerks have developed, and if the agents and the candidates don’t keep pulling us backwards ... we’ll move faster than yesterday and last night,″ said Jane Karanja, a tired election official.

Rising from a nap on a straight-backed chair, opposition observer Ephantus Mwangi said, ``It is very slow and exhaustive.″

The election was extended to Tuesday because some polling stations opened very late Monday because they did not have enough or the right ballots. Similar problems occurred Tuesday.

Turnout ranged from 65 percent to more than 80 percent in 18 of 210 constituencies that had reported results to commission headquarters.

In three of 32 constituencies reporting in western Nyanza province, Moi won 43,779 votes; Mwai Kibaki, 19,840; Charity Ngilu, 3,342; and Raila Odinga, 417. In 1992, Odinga won in the province with 75 percent to Moi’s 15 percent.

Also Tuesday, a riot broke out in Nakuru, 80 miles northwest of the capital, where a vehicle arrived at a counting center with a ballot box that onlookers considered suspicious. One person was fatally shot and two others were slashed to death with machetes. Two others died in similar violence Monday.

The National Convention Executive Committee, an opposition group that has pushed for political reforms, called the elections ``a fantastic farce″ and blamed Moi’s government for election irregularities. The group said the commission acted illegally in extending voting and delaying counting.

Meanwhile, politicians on all sides were laying the groundwork for rejecting the results.

Moi complained that the 21-member Electoral Commission _ whose members he had approved _ was trying to cheat him of victory.

In a statement read on state radio, Moi accused the commission of an ``obvious scheme to rig the ongoing general election in favor of the opposition.″

Officials from his party, the Kenya African National Union, listed 120 complaints, including too few or no ballots in traditional KANU strongholds.

Even if most of Kenya’s 9 million registered voters chose opposition candidates, Moi still would be likely to win because he faced more than a dozen contenders divided along ethnic lines. Unable to agree on a single challenger, the opposition’s only hope of winning was in forcing a runoff, which might unite the anti-Moi vote.

``The whole process should be restarted under more auspicious conditions within six months,″ said Apollo Njonjo, Social Democratic Party secretary-general. ``Failure to annul these elections will trigger civil strife.″

His party’s presidential candidate, 45-year-old businesswoman Ngilu, said she would challenge the results if Moi won.

Commission Chairman Samuel Kivuitu said despite problems, ``I would say there was nothing wrong with the elections.″

Kivuitu said at a news conference the commission ``lapsed in the logistics. We don’t deny this.″ Specifically, some ballots were wrongly addressed and were sent to the wrong places, he said. Also, local officials were not told how to distribute ballots, causing waste and shortages.

But there was no rigging, Kivuitu said.

In Washington, the State Department expressed regret over the poor organization of the election, but said there were some positive aspects to the balloting.

``Despite the bureaucratic flaws in the process, we are encouraged by the level of peaceful, popular participation in the election and the conduct of party agents, election observers and presiding officers at many polling places,″ spokesman James Foley said.

In addition to winning a seat in Parliament, the successful presidential candidate also must win a minimum of 25 percent of the vote in at least five of Kenya’s eight provinces.

In the 1992 general elections _ the first multiparty elections since 1966 _ Moi won more than 25 percent of the vote in five provinces and 36 percent nationwide. But monitors said the elections were badly flawed.

Update hourly