Kenya's president has dissolved the country's parliament ahead of elections expected in December. Derek Kilner reports from VOA's Nairobi bureau, a firm date for elections is expected to be announced later this week.
"I hereby dissolve the Ninth Parliament of the Republic of Kenya with immediate effect. I take this opportunity to wish all honorable members well as we return to our constituents to receive a new mandate," said President Mwai Kibaki in a televised address.
President Kibaki announced the dissolution of parliament, a move that was widely expected, as it is a necessary first step before a date for presidential and parliamentary elections can be set.
President Kibaki called for transparent and peaceful elections.
"I also appeal to all political leaders, and Kenyans in general, to ensure that we have peaceful, free, and fair general elections," he added. "It is only through a fair and credible poll, free of violence and intimidation that the true verdict of the people will prevail."
While the campaign season has been largely peaceful, there have been scattered cases of violence around campaign events, and the possibility of further violence remains a fear.
President Kibaki also used the address to highlight some of the achievements of his first term in office. These include the establishment of a fund for development projects in each parliamentary district, and the creation of a new anti-graft body, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.
The president is running for the Party of National Unity, and had long been considered the favorite in the race. But in late September, opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled ahead in opinion polls.
Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, known as ODM, first emerged in 2005 as a coalition that successfully opposed a referendum introduced by President Kibaki to change Kenya's constitution. ODM has been able to maintain much of the momentum and visibility it gained during that campaign.
Three surveys published Sunday in the local Nation newspaper all show Odinga leading Kibaki, but by varying margin from five to 21 percentage points.
Odinga has accused President Kibaki of favoring his Kikuyu tribe, the largest in Kenya, at the expense of other ethnic groups, and of failing to combat corruption, which was a central theme of the president's 2002 campaign.
Odinga also favors instituting a federal system of government. Opponents of the proposal claim that such a system will exacerbate ethnic tensions in the country.
President Kibaki has focused his campaign on his achievements in office, with a particular focus on Kenya's strong record of economic growth.