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EU Election Observers in Kenya to Monitor Poll

Election observers from the European Union are set to deploy to locations throughout Kenya in advance of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 27. The EU will be sending a total of 150 observers for this election, nearly double the number from the previous vote in 2002. For VOA, Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

At a news conference in Nairobi on Tuesday, the head of the EU's observation team, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German member of the European Parliament, described the importance the EU places on successful elections in Kenya.

"Kenya, let me remind you, set a very high standard for the region in the elections of 2002. Now it is the responsibility of leaders in all political parties to maintain this standard, and ideally raise it even further," he said. "Kenya needs to ensure that it remains a stabilizing factor in a troubled region."

Kenya's neighbors in the Horn of Africa region include Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia, all of which are facing armed insurgencies.

The EU's team in Kenya so far consists of 11 election experts based in Nairobi and 38 long-term observers who will head to locations in Kenya's eight provinces beginning Wednesday. Roughly 100 short-term observers are set to arrive a few days before the elections to observe the vote.

The selection of parliamentary candidates by the major parties set off several violent protests in mid-November, amid accusations that the parties did not follow the rules they had established for the process.

Lambsdorff acknowledged the presence of such incidents, but declined to make an assessment of the current situation.

"I am not gloomy at all, I am not overly optimistic at all. We are here to observe. The process has just begun. We will observe it," he said. "We will draw our conclusions at the end of the process and at that time we will come to an independent assessment, really, and make solid recommendations."

The observation mission plans to make an initial statement in the days following the December 27 vote. Lambsdorff says the team will publish a final report in early February.

President Mwai Kibaki, running on the Party of National Unity ticket, is facing a strong challenge from Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement. Odinga had been leading President Kibaki in most polls since late September, but a new survey published by the polling firm the Steadman Group on Friday showed the two candidates in a virtual tie, with Odinga at 43.6 percent and President Kibaki at 43.3 percent. A third candidate, Kalonozo Musyoka received 11 percent.

Odinga has accused President Kibaki of favoring his Kikuyu tribe - Kenya's largest - at the expense of other ethnic groups, and of failing to deliver on a 2002 campaign pledge to combat corruption.

President Kibaki has been campaigning on the achievements of his first term in office including a record of strong economic growth and the introduction of free primary education.

Many analysts, however, see few ideological differences between the candidates, with popular support determined more by ethnic and regional allegiances.