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Election Observers Fan Out Across Kenya Ahead of Vote - 2002-12-24


International election observers set out across Kenya Tuesday to prepare for Friday's elections.

As the European Union's 140 election observers set out across the country, the head of the team said he is optimistic that there will be free and fair elections in Kenya on Friday.

Chief monitor Anders Wijkman praised the work of Kenya's electoral commission in the run up to what is expected to be a turning point in Kenyan history. "Our general impression so far of the preparations and the organization of the election is positive. We believe that the electoral commission has been and is doing a good job. The organization seems to be well planned. The selecting of election staff as we understand it has been done in a professional way," Mr. Wijkman said.

However, Mr. Wijkman did express concern about reports that some candidates are trying to rig the poll by bribing voters. "There are allegations that voter cards have been bought and sold and also that in certain areas people have been given petty cash. And also it was alleged yesterday relief supplies have been handed out to sort of attract their attention and possibly obtain their support," he said.

Kenyans are extremely worried that Friday's elections will be rigged.

Mr. Wijkman said their concerns are understandable, given that the last two elections, in 1992 and 1997, were not free and fair because of widespread violence, bribery and cheating.

One major improvement this year is that, for the first time, votes will be counted at each polling station. In previous years, ballot boxes were transported to a central place to be counted, which made it easy to tamper with them.

More than 40,000 local and international monitors are expected to observe the election. The European Union team is the largest.

The EU monitors are expected to release a final statement on the conduct of the elections on Sunday.

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