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Kenya Elections Set for December 27

The chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya has announced that general elections will take place on December 27. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, a close contest is expected between incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga.

At a televised press conference in Nairobi on Friday, Electoral Commission Chair Samuel Kivuitu announced the date for Kenya's presidential and parliamentary elections.

"Formal nominations for the parliamentary and local government election shall be held on the 23rd and 24th of November," said Kivuitu. "And the elections proper will be held on 27th of December starting from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm."

The announcement had been widely expected after President Mwai Kibaki dissolved Kenya's parliament on October 22. While many in Kenya had hoped for an election before Christmas, Kivuitu said that such a date would not allow enough time to accommodate the necessary electoral processes, including the printing of ballots.

Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, running on the Party of National Unity ticket is facing a challenge from former ally Raila Odinga, of the Orange Democratic Movement. The president had long been the favorite in the race, but in late September, Odinga pulled ahead in opinion polls.

In a survey released by the Steadman Group on Friday, Odinga leads the president by 50 percent to 39 percent. That margin is slightly smaller than in the previous Steadman Group poll, released on October 12, which put Odinga ahead by 53 to 37 percentage points. Three other polls published on Sunday also show Odinga leading Kibaki by various margins.

Kalonzo Musyoka is also running for president with the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya - which split off from Odinga's party. Musyoka is at 8 percent in the latest Steadman poll.

The terms of several of Kenya's electoral commissioners are set to expire before the election. Chairman Kivuitu's appointment ends on December 2 and the terms of eight others end on October 28, prompting worries that electoral preparations could be disrupted.

Chairman Kivuitu responded to this concern in questions following his address, saying that he will do all he can to ensure the elections proceed smoothly.

"As far as I am concerned, I will do my work until the second of December at midnight and quit. In fact I have started pulling out some of my things slowly, slowly in anticipation of the date," said Kivuitu. "But my mind is set on this election, that at least I should leave a well-planned election when I go. Thereafter, whatever happens, I will be watching like everybody else. But I don't think the President should be pushed too much."

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

Odinga has accused the president of favoring his Kikuyu tribe - the country's largest - at the expense of other ethnic groups. Odinga also favors introducing a federal system of government. Opponents claim that such a system will exacerbate ethnic tensions in the country.