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Kenyans Vote Amid Fraud Charges

  • Nick Wadhams

Kenyan voters cast their ballots on Thursday in a tight presidential race that many say is too close to call. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, voting in the stronghold of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, in the Kenyan capital, took place amid accusations of poll rigging, but the voting was otherwise peaceful.

Thousands of supporters cheered Raila Odinga, who arrived early Thursday to cast his ballot in the densely populated slum area of Kibera, where the 62-year-old opposition candidate holds a parliament seat.

Euphoria turned into anger, when officials at the polling station said that they had lost the voter registration list with the names of the district's constituents, which includes Odinga and many of his Luo tribesmen.

Hours later, the list was found and Odinga returned to the polling station to cast his vote. He calls the incident a deliberate attempt by the government of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki to rig the outcome in his constituency.

This voter's anger was common in Kibera. He says that the mistake was
actually a delaying tactic by the government.

In advance of the elections, polls gave Odinga a razor-thin lead over President Kibaki, who belongs to Kenya's majority Kikuyu tribe. The closeness of the vote has raised fears of fraud and heightened ethnic tensions.

Odinga told reporters that the electoral commission had told him that the problem had been worked out.

"I've also been assured that all the people who have been turned up to vote in Old Kibera Primary School and Olympic Primary school will be enabled to vote by the end of the day," he said. "In other words that the commission is going to extend the voting time until everyone who has wants to vote has been allowed to vote."

In most places, polls closed across the country at 6 in the evening but the Kenyan Electoral Commission extended voting in Kibera and a few other areas to about 7:30 p.m.

The head of the European Union's election observer mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said he had not seen any evidence of voter fraud.

"Throughout Kenya according to very preliminary reports I've obtained from across the country it's much different from Kibera," said Lambsdorff. "Generally, the situation seems to be going smoothly. There seems to be an orderly process of the opening of the polling stations. The polling itself seems to be orderly so there's general calm and there is of course great interest in the elections, but the situation in Langata, in Kibera here, is really an exception to the rule if one looks at the country at large."

The votes are now being tabulated but first results are not expected before Friday. Election observers say they will give their verdict on the fairness of the vote in the next few days.

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