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Moi -- The End of An Era - 2002-12-27

The main issue in this general election campaign has been change -- specifically, economic change. As voters go to the polls, they are trying to decide who offers the best possibility for change.

Kenya’s ruling party, KANU, is about 50 years old – and has been in power for 40 years. Its main competitor, the National Rainbow Coalition or NARC is barely three months old.

The coalition is a grouping of some 15 political parties that came together to counter what was perceived as President Daniel arap Moi’s decision to impose his own choice of a leader on Kenyans.

Mr. Moi’s preferred candidate, forty-one year-old Uhuru Kenyatta, is relatively new to politics. Those who support Mr. Kenyatta say he is clean, and untainted by scandal – and will offer Kenya a fresh start.

Mr. Moi says he chose Mr. Kenyatta because of his youth. "I would like to see younger people take over the running of affairs in this country. As you all know Kenya is a young nation -- over 81 per cent of the population of 24 million Kenyans are under 35 years of age whereas only 19 per cent of our population is over 35 years old. It is reasonable to conclude that unless younger people are involved in the running of the affairs of this country there will be communication gaps with a part of our population."

However, President Moi's decision sparked a backlash, even among some senior members of his own party. Several leading several cabinet ministers resigned and joined the opposition.

Veteran politician Mwai Kibaki, who had been involved in earlier opposition initiatives, was chosen by the opposition coalition as its presidential candidate. Its campaign has emphasized Mr. Kibaki’s experience over Mr. Kenyatta's youth.

The seventy-one year-old Mr. Kibaki has been in politics for over 40 years. He is a former vice president. Before he defected to the opposition in 1991 he had been minister for health and earlier minister for Finance. He says he is the best candidate to bring about change in Kenya and has pledged to form an inclusive government if he wins. "We want a government of national unity --those who are in that government have to come from different regions, different provinces, different religions which make up the nation of Kenya. There is no secrecy about it and it is not anything which is different -- anybody who is to be ruled will be ruled under the law and within the rule of law and to make the rule effective you shall need a judiciary that is honest." Mr. Kibaki is an economist. His supporters say his experience in government will help NARC bring about much-needed economic reforms.

Regardless of the outcome, political observers say this election is a test of maturity among Kenyan voters. A victory for KANU would be perceived as a victory for President Moi, since he chose his party’s candidate. And a victory for NARC would be a victory for opposition unity.