Thousands of local and international election observers were deployed throughout Kenya Thursday to monitor 14 million eligible voters expected to participate in presidential elections, the closest political race Kenyans have seen since the country gained independence from Britain in 1963. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Nairobi, turnout was high at most polling stations.

Official figures are not yet available. But the European Union observer mission says it believes Thursday's turnout has exceeded the 57 percent achieved in 2002, when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki replaced long-time leader Daniel arap Moi in a landslide victory.

More than 17,000 local monitors were deployed to 27,000 polling stations across Kenya. International observer missions included the European Union, African Union, and the Commonwealth.

Their task was to determine whether the country's Electoral Commission was able to hold fair and credible elections after a political race that has been too close to call for months.

Since September, public opinion polls have put 62-year-old opposition leader Raila Odinga in a statistical dead heat with 76-year-old Mwai Kibaki, raising fears of widespread voting fraud.

Bradley Austin is the Senior Program Officer at the International Foundation for Election Systems, a non-partisan democracy development organization based in Washington D.C.

He observed the vote in Nairobi and says he was disappointed by the performance of Kenya's Electoral Commission, especially in Odinga's Nairobi constituency area of Kibera and several other areas where voter lists went missing for hours and delayed the opening of the polling stations.

About a quarter of the 27,000 polling stations reportedly had problems and had to be kept open after the closing deadline to give voters a chance to cast their ballots.

Nonetheless, Austin says he gives the electoral commission credit for its efforts to keep election day relatively free of violence.

"Kibera was a mess, mostly because too many people were trying to fit into too small of an area, making it unworkable," he said. "Other places were not ready to go and yet when they got it going, it worked perfectly, marching forward at a very good pace quite literally."

The head of the European Union observer mission told reporters that he had not seen any evidence of fraud.

The winning candidate must receive more votes than his closest challenger and secure 25 percent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces.

The Electoral Commission of Kenya is expected to announce the official results on Saturday. But preliminary results could be released as early as Friday.