In Kenya, Early Tallies Show Kibaki Trailing

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 28, 2007; 7:30 AM

NAIROBI, Dec. 28 -- With vote-counting underway in what appears to be the closest and most open presidential contest in this nation's history, Raila Odinga, a fiery opposition leader, appeared to hold a strong lead over President Mwai Kibaki, according to early returns broadcast Friday on three main local TV stations.

Official results were expected from the Kenyan electoral commission late Friday or Saturday in a vote that international observers have praised as largely peaceful, despite election-day glitches and a few episodes of violence.

If Kibaki loses, he would be the first sitting president to be turned out of office by the Kenyan electorate. That would be a milestone not only for Kenya but also for sub-Saharan African politics, where leaders have tended to cling to power at any cost.

Out of 14 million registered voters, turnout appeared to exceed 60 percent, election observers said.

Those numbers were visible Thursday, when Kenyans waited in hours-long lines and queued up well before dawn to cast their ballots in the most open and competitive presidential election since the country gained independence from Britain in 1963.

Upon arriving to vote in his stronghold of Kibera, a bustling slum of dirt paths, trash heaps and rusted shacks, Odinga Thursday was engulfed by jubilant crowds cheering, "Clear the way! The president is coming!"

"We are going to win, without any doubt," said Wilson Odongo, 25, who was in his fifth hour of waiting in a line that appeared to stretch half a mile.

Various technical problems arose across the country during the voting, and a "significant number" of polling stations opened late, said Graham Elson, deputy chief of the European Union's observer mission.

"But overall . . . it was a reasonable performance," Elson said, noting that the mission was still monitoring the count.

In multiparty elections in 2002, Kibaki defeated the chosen successor of Daniel arap Moi, whose two-decade rule was marked by economic failure and political repression.

Kibaki, 76, a trained economist, has campaigned mainly on the country's strong economic growth under his stewardship.

Odinga, 62, a populist known as "the Warrior" for his years of fighting for multiparty democracy, has promised even greater growth and to distribute wealth more equitably. He has also attacked Kibaki for failing to fight one of Kenya's most pressing problems, corruption.

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