After Year of Tumultuous Politics, Kenya Set for Multiparty Elections

Article excerpt

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.

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."

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. …

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