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Kenya's Opposition Party Chooses Presidential Candidate - 2002-10-22

In Kenya, opposition parties united for the coming elections have named former vice president Mwai Kibaki as their presidential candidate. He is expected to challenge the party that has been ruling Kenya since independence 39 years ago. The united opposition should make the December elections very close.

Hundreds gathered outside Nairobi's Hilton Hotel to find out who the National Rainbow Alliance had chosen.

The selection of 71-year-old Mwai Kibaki came as no surprise. Mr. Kibaki finished second in the 1997 elections, with 31 percent of the vote, as head of the Democratic Party. His party is now part of the National Rainbow Alliance coalition.

A confident, Mr. Kibaki said if elected his top priority will be to revive Kenya's economy and eliminate corruption. Mr. Kibaki promised that senior government officials will no longer be allowed to loot from public coffers.

"I am announcing that when we do form the very first government, as we are going to very soon, we must have a law which insists that people given the responsibility in the nation, every responsibility, have to declare their wealth on the first day they are sworn into that job," Mr. Kibaki said.

Tuesday's conference marked the official merger of the National Alliance Party of Kenya, a coalition of 13 political parties, and the Liberal Democratic Party, or Rainbow, made up of rebels who quit the ruling KANU party last week.

KANU has nominated Uhuru Kenyatta, a political novice who is the son of Kenya's founder Jomo Kenyatta. President Daniel Arap Moi is prevented from running for re-election by the country's constitution.

George Saitoti, who was Kenya's vice president until he was fired by President Moi in August, said Rainbow Alliance members have sacrificed their own personal ambitions because of the overwhelming need for a united opposition. "Each one of us had a burning ambition to head this country but we had to decide what is the most important thing for our cause and for the nation. And we felt that we could not let down the clarion call of the Kenyans wherever we went. Kenyans kept on telling us please unite, please unite. And therefore we have come here to tell you yes we have united," Mr. Saitoti said.

This merger marks a major breakthrough in Kenyan opposition politics. In the last election, the parties now united under the National Rainbow Alliance won more than 58 percent of the vote, but lost because they were competing against each other.

The opposition merger extends beyond the presidential contest. The National Rainbow Alliance is planning to field just one candidate in every parliamentary constituency to run against the ruling party candidate.