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Landmark Kenya poll runs tempers thin

Nairobi, Dec. 27 (Reuters): Kenyans voted today in elections ending 24 years of rule by President Daniel arap Moi with pundits predicting the ousting of the ruling party after nearly four decades in power.

Voting delays and mix-ups strained tempers during 12 hours of polling that began at 6 am (0300 GMT), with voters jamming radio station telephone lines to complain at having being left off electoral rolls or in some cases being listed as dead. “They told me my name was found in the register of dead people. What kind of joke is that'” said Rispa Otieno, a mother of seven in the Embakasi district of Nairobi.

“Tension is building up in polling stations in all parts of the country, but mostly in Nairobi... We are concerned,” national police spokesman Kingori Mwangi said. Voting closed at 6 pm (1500 GMT) but election officials said polling stations that opened late would close later.

Kenyans hope Moi’s retirement will herald a new dawn after years of economic stagnation and corruption. It is only the third multi-party vote since independence from Britain in 1963.

Mwai Kibaki, leader of the opposition National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), is widely tipped to defeat his main rival in the presidential race, Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU). “Kibaki will win,” said Katama Mkangi, sociology professor at the US International University in Nairobi. “The will for Kibaki and for change is irresistible.”

Commentators said Kibaki was the firm favourite in the presidential race as NARC represents many more tribes than KANU. Tribes, not policies, are the key factor in Kenyan politics.

In scenes repeated elsewhere in the opposition bastion of Nairobi, young vigilantes kept watch around Embakasi polling station as vote counting began half an hour after polls closed.

A Kibaki win would be the first opposition victory since Kenya introduced multiparty polls a decade ago and would end 39 years of KANU dominance.

Kenyatta, 41, is the businessman son of independence leader Jomo Kenyatta and presents himself as the torchbearer of a younger generation frustrated by years of economic decline.

“Uhuru is the man for the job. He represents the new leadership we are asking for,” said Solomon Mwaura, 30, a timber logger. “I am educated. But to get a real job I needed to bribe someone and I didn’t have the money. And Uhuru has pledged to fight all that and get us back on our feet.”

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