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Kenya Approves 9 Candidates for Presidential Race

Kenya's Electoral Commission has approved nine candidates for December's presidential contest. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, where President Mwai Kibaki and top challenger Raila Odinga were among those presenting their election papers this week.

Kenya's presidential election looks to be a close contest between incumbent Mwai Kibaki, running on the ticket of the newly formed Party of National Unity, and Raila Odinga, of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement.

Odinga pulled ahead of Kibaki in opinion polls in late September, opening a 16-point lead by mid-October. But the president has stepped his campaigning efforts in recent weeks, and according to the most recent survey released by the Steadman Group polling firm, has narrowed the gap to four points.

A third candidate, Kalonzo Musyoka, is polling 11 percent. Several other candidates have also been approved to contest the elections, including Kenneth Matiba. Matiba finished second in Kenya's first multiparty elections in 1992, but has maintained a low profile in recent years.

On Thursday, Odinga delivered a speech in Nairobi outlining a series of campaign pledges. These include a new constitution granting more powers for regional government, increased spending on infrastructure, free secondary education, and free health care for children under five.

Odinga also reemphasized his complaints that President Kibaki has failed to deliver on his 2002 campaign pledge to fight corruption, and that the president has favored his Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest, at the expense of other ethnic groups.

Kenyan political analyst Ojwang Agina says that the message was well received and says he believes Odinga will maintain his lead in future opinion polls.

"It captured most of the areas that Kenyans feel need urgent attention by the future government," he said. "The points he raised are consistent with what he has been saying all along. The majority of the people believe him when he talks about ending corruption, ending tribalism, and correcting the imbalances in terms of distribution of national assets that is marginalization of areas like Northeastern, Nyanza Province, Coast Province."

President Kibaki has said he will continue to build on his achievements in his first term in office, including a record of strong economic growth, and the introduction of free primary education.

Both Odinga and President Kibaki this week reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a peaceful campaign season. The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights has reported that 20 people have been killed in election-related violence since July.

Kenya's parties also nominated their candidates for parliamentary elections Friday. The parliamentary vote will also be held on December 27.