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Kenya signals end of era

Nairobi, Dec. 28 (Reuters): Kenya’s Opposition appeared on course for a landmark victory today as unofficial results trickled in from general elections marking the end of President Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year rule.

If the trend continues, Kenya could record one of the most remarkable democratic changes in Africa by peacefully retiring one of the continent’s last old-style political strongmen.

The poll was also shaping into a rout of Moi’s KANU party, for long the unchallenged ruling organ of East Africa’s biggest economy. Nine senior KANU Cabinet ministers, including the vice president and the finance minister, were rejected by voters, according to preliminary results. “We are cruising to a fantastic and historic victory,” leading Opposition politician Kijana Wamalwa said as early returns appeared in line with most analysts’ predictions.

With almost a quarter of the electorate counted by 1520 GMT, unofficial results gave NARC candidate Mwai Kibaki 65 per cent of the key presidential vote. KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Moi’s handpicked successor and son of Kenya’s independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, was trailing with 28 per cent.

NARC had won 71 seats against 26 for KANU in the race for the largely powerless Assembly, according to unofficial results compiled by the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) and private Nation Television. Parliament has 210 elected members and 12 nominated by the parties.

Three minor presidential contenders are given little chance.

The Electoral Commission begun issuing preliminary tallies today, similar to those by independent poll trackers. It says the official presidency result might not be out until January 1.

“The mood here is very sombre,” said an official at State House, Kenya’s seat of power.

NARC leaders sensing victory were already in a jubilant mood. Some excited supporters staged noisy joyrides down Nairobi’s main business thoroughfare in dangerously overloaded pickups.

Opposition stalwart Raila Odinga toned down his persistent warnings against possible poll foul play by KANU, but advised Moi and his party at a news conference: “I think the most honourable thing to do now is accept defeat and hand over gracefully.”

The Commonwealth congratulated Kenya for holding what it called responsible and orderly elections and showing faith in democratic values. It appealed to all parties to accept the results and act with statesmanship.

KANU has wielded absolute power for most of the time since Kenya, a leading tea and coffee grower and major tourist destination, won independence from Britain in 1963.

Moi today shrugged off the prospect of poll humiliation for his anointed successor, telling reporters at an army farewell parade: “Well, that is the way democracy goes. I had said whoever wins, I will hand over power.” Moi, 78, is bound by the Constitution to step down.

In another blow to KANU, election officials said Vice President Musalia Mudavadi lost his seat, as did KANU’s top politician in the Indian Ocean region, Shariff Nassir.

Voting went mostly peacefully but two people were killed in western Kisii district yesterday evening when a police-man accompanying a car carrying ballot papers to the main counting centre opened fire on another car, mistakenly fearing an ambush.

Downpours hit voting by disrupting transport in a handful of constituencies where voting was taking place today.

The national mood appeared mostly calm and upbeat despite widespread complaints from individuals who were barred from casting ballots after finding themselves left off voter lists.

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