Disarray over Kenyan polls

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 4 January 1993

KENYA’s opposition leaders were locked in angry discussions last night over how to force Daniel arap Moi’s government to hold new elections.

Alleging that Mr Moi rigged his way to victory in last week’s poll, the three main opposition parties are trying to present a united front in rejecting the outcome. Latest results show Mr Moi has won with substantial majorities in both the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The opposition parties’ rejection of the poll has been strongly criticised by foreign observers, who have advised them to accept the result while refusing to say whether they believe the contest was free and fair.

Calls by the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) for irregularities to be accepted and a demand by the United States ambassador to Kenya – previously a strong critic of Mr Moi’s Kenya African National Union (Kanu) government – for the opposition to accept the result, have given Mr Moi the international recognition essential for him to resume the presidency confidently.

Votes show he has 1.9 million votes, while his closest rival, the Ford-Asili leader Kenneth Matiba, has 1.3 million. Kanu has won 96 of the 188 parliamentary seats, while the combined opposition has 80.

Before leaving Kenya on Saturday, the chairman of the COG, Telford Georges, said: “Let us not stress the question of whether the elections were free and fair.”

The Commonwealth secretary-general, Emeka Anyaoku, arrives in Nairobi today to encourage Kanu to promote reconciliation with the opposition parties. The Commonwealth initiative comes two days after Mr Moi accused the opposition of fomenting civil war.

It is unlikely Kanu will offer government posts to the three main opposition parties as a conciliatory gesture, or that those parties would accept the offer.

Foreign pressure on Kanu to introduce political reform was a key element in bringing about the election. Foreign donors froze $350 million in balance of payments assistance to force Mr Moi to introduce political and economic reforms.

There is growing confusion over where the Commonwealth observers stand. An official from one of the groups last night described the vote-counting as a “bloody farce”.

But there have been no unequivocal statements publicly condemning the poll. Instead, the observers have applauded the high turnout and the general absence of intimidation on polling day.

The acceptance of the result by foreign observers, when millions of voters from Kenya’s two largest tribes – the Luo and Kikuyu – are now without representation in government despite the democratic reform, has exposed the danger of opposition movements harnessing the political interests of foreign powers to the process of political reform.

The US ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, said at the weekend the opposition had itself to blame for its defeat because it had failed to unite to defeat Kanu. Last week a US embassy official said: “On the issues of whether there was a level playing field with regard to the registration process, the holding of political meetings and media access, we would grade the situation as borderline at best.”

But Mr Hempstone said yesterday: “The playing field was level and I cannot support [the opposition decision] to reject the result.”

US embassy officials were responsible last week for informing foreign journalists of numerous instances of electoral irregularities.


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