NAIROBI, KENYA -- Kenyans this week were forced for the first time to forsake the secret ballot in a national election and instead line up in public behind a photograph of the candidate of their choice.
Preliminary results showed that an exceptionally large number of voters took Monday's primary election for Parliament as an opportunity to vote against the system by staying home.
According to unofficial tallies published Tuesday in Kenya's largest national newspaper, only 14 percent of registered voters in Nairobi, Kenya's largest city, showed up at the polls.
In Mombasa, the second largest city, the turnout was 22 percent. The turnout in densely populated western Kenya also was reported to be exceptionally poor.
In previous national elections, which used secret ballots, turnout was far higher, approaching 90 percent in some areas.
The law establishing the new queuing system was pushed through Parliament last year by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi over the objections of church leaders, the Kenyan law society and several prominent politicians, who argued that it would intimidate voters and stifle freedom of choice.
In the past, local races for Parliament in Kenya have been among the most hotly contested and fairly conducted elections in black Africa.
The new system, which Moi has promoted as a method particularly well-suited to Africans, revives a British colonial practice that was alleged to have resulted in public intimidation to assure the election of chiefs sympathetic to the colonial government.
In this one-party state, Monday's primary election assured a candidate a seat in Parliament if he carried 70 percent or more of the vote.
In districts where no candidate got 70 percent, the outcome is to be decided in a secret-ballot general election next month.
While the queuing system worked peacefully in some regions of Kenya, with voters apparently feeling free to stand for the candidate of their choice, there were many reports of voter intimidation, violence, vote-buying and rigged counts.
Complicating the results further was widespread confusion among election officials about the official results. Various "official" counts Monday and Tuesday varied by as much as 400 percent.
"There was a complete mockery of justice in my place . . . . There were no elections. Counting was a fraud," said John Keriri, an assistant minister of transport and a parliamentary candidate in the Kirinyagi district, about 45 miles north of Nairobi.
Monday's queuing produced questionable results in several constituencies, according to western diplomatic observers. In at least two of these, veteran members of Parliament -- known to be out of favor with the ruling party, but who had carried large majorities in their districts in past elections -- were reported to have been soundly defeated.
In a statement Tuesday, Moi said the election process was conducted "fairly, openly and peacefully, and in accordance with the democratic traditions of the country." Moi added that after a "thorough examination" of the conduct of the election, he was satisfied that all complaints "were devoid of merit."
In theory, Moi was subject to a reelection challenge this year. But the president, who personally controls nearly all political and police power in this country, ran unopposed from his home district. He is expected to be chosen unanimously by the ruling party for his third five-year term.