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|Posted December 30, 2002|
|Kenya's Ruling Party Is Defeated After 39|
|Years In Power|
|By MARC LACEY|
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 29 In a vote widely hailed as a step forward for democracy in Africa, Kenyans have resoundingly defeated the party that has ruled over them for nearly four decades and selected the opposition leader Mwai Kibaki as their new president, election officials said today.
The result left no doubt about the voters' opinion of the 24-year rule of the retiring president, Daniel arap Moi. Throughout the country, Kenyans rejected Mr. Moi's choice as his successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, a newcomer to politics who is the son of the country's founding president, Jomo Kenyatta.
The election on Friday is the first the governing party has lost since independence in 1963.
Election officials declared Mr. Kibaki the winner today as ballots were still being tabulated. Without releasing complete results, they said the margin was so great that none of his four rivals stood a chance. Independent election watchers gave
Mr. Kibaki 63 percent of the vote, compared with 20 percent for Mr. Kenyatta, the second-place finisher. Mr. Kibaki, who is scheduled to be sworn in Monday morning in a downtown park, is a former finance minister and vice president to Mr. Moi who broke with him a decade ago. As the standard-bearer of allied opposition groups called the National Rainbow Coalition, he has vowed to change Kenya's fortunes by turning the tide on corruption, poverty and authoritarian rule.
Mr. Moi's decision to retire, as required by the country's Constitution, and to allow a bitter rival to replace him was seen today as a milestone in the development of Kenya's democracy, which began in 1963 with its break from British rule.
It is also an end of an era in Kenya. Mr. Moi, 78, is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, behind only Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo, Omar Bongo in Gabon and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, all of whom have been in power since the late 1960's.
Mr. Moi, known for his tailored suits and autocratic ways, succeeded in keeping Kenya whole, in contrast to neighboring Somalia and Sudan. But the more than 31 million Kenyans watched as their country decayed around them during his tenure.
"If we got this wrong, there would have been civil strife," John Githongo, an anticorruption activist, said of the remarkably orderly transfer of power. "This country would have gone down the drain."
Mr. Moi's Kenya has become a land of stark contrasts: dire poverty and fabulous, mostly stolen, wealth; natural beauty and collapsing infrastructure. AIDS ravages the people, and the country's infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. Known for its luxury safaris in remote unspoiled regions, it is also a place where the bulk of the population gets by on less than a dollar a day.
Still, Kenya has the largest economy in East Africa and remains the most stable country in the region. The defeat of the governing party, which has held the presidency since independence, was regarded today as an inspiration to democratic opposition forces across Africa.
"All of those leaders who are in power today by dirty methods Kenya has given a good lesson which they should emulate," said Kenneth Kaunda, a former president of Zambia who was ousted by voters in his country in 1991. Now serving as an election observer for the Carter Center, Mr. Kaunda praised Mr. Moi for ushering in real democracy in Kenya by stepping down, holding elections and abiding by the result.
For decades, Kenya has been a democracy in name only. The governing Kenya African National Union, known as KANU, was the only party on the ballot until 1991. Then, Mr. Moi fomented ethnic clashes and tapped into public funds to outflank competitors. Mr. Kibaki tried, unsuccessfully, to unseat him in 1992 and 1997 in elections marred by widespread violence.
The latest contest was far more peaceful and the numerous election observers, from the European Union, the Carter Center and many other countries and organizations, declared the contest flawed but generally fair.
Still, Kenya's rough-and-tumble politics manifested itself today when supporters of Mr. Kibaki gathered outside the headquarters of the Electoral Commission and demanded that the commission's chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, immediately declare Mr. Kibaki the winner. In the process, some over-enthused Kenyans roughed up Mr. Kivuitu.
After delaying for much of the day, Mr. Kivuitu declared Mr. Kibaki the next president "by a wide margin," although he said the official declaration would not come until Monday. Advertisement
Mr. Kenyatta had already conceded the election with a speech in a downtown hotel today that was mostly gracious but contained some jabs at his rival as well.
"I disagree that we've changed from the old to the new," said Mr. Kenyatta, 42, who now becomes the leader of the opposition KANU party. "KANU is really the new. We've changed from the old to the old."
Mr. Kibaki, who at 71 comes from Mr. Moi's generation, held a subdued victory celebration in the garden of his suburban home. He vowed to begin immediately to assemble a broad, representative cabinet that will undertake the difficult work of reviving Kenya.
"It is a very humbling occasion," said Mr. Kibaki, who is recovering from injuries he suffered in a car accident during the campaign. "It means, in effect, Kenyans have given me a challenge."
It was at church services today that many Kenyans began reacting to the results of Friday's election, which turned their governmental structure upside down. Later, rowdy celebrations broke out in the streets of downtown. On this day, few members of the governing party seemed to be around.
"There's a bigger hand at work here," the Rev. John Gichinga told about 400 worshipers at Nairobi Baptist Church this morning. "We cannot humanly explain what happened in Kenya this election. It's like a flash flood came and totally wiped out the government as we know it."
After the service, Hope Simiyu, who is just 7, danced out of the church, swirling her long braids and holding the hand of her mother. "Kibaki won!" she shouted. "Kibaki won!"
She said she was especially excited by Mr. Kibaki's pledge to make primary education free for all.
Universal primary education is just one of the lofty promises that Mr. Kabaki made from the campaign stump. He said that by streamlining the notoriously corrupt Moi government Kenya could afford to eliminate the school fees that now strain many Kenyan households and keep many youngsters home.
Mr. Kibaki also promised to begin an immediate review of the Constitution, which gives the president far-reaching power, and put a new one in place within six months. He said he would fight corruption and set up a panel similar to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address past economic crimes. In the new government, he said, top officials will have to declare their wealth publicly.
Absent from a Kibaki administration, he pledged, will be the omnipresent reminders of who is president. Mr. Kibaki said that he was not interested in businesses hanging his portrait from above their cash registers or the Treasury issuing notes bearing his face.
"What is important is that we should have a stable currency, not whose picture is there," Mr. Kibaki said. "A president should prove himself by things he's going to do that change the life of ordinary Kenyans, not by naming every street and every corner."
Expectations are so high for Mr. Kibaki's new government that some analysts fear disappointment as the new administration begins the long and difficult task of righting a country with so many wrongs. Adding to the challenge is that many of those leading the incoming governing party were members of the old one just months ago.
"It's a great day for Kenya and a great day for Africa," said Smith Hempstone, who while serving as United States ambassador in the early 1990's pushed Mr. Moi hard to end one-party rule. "The big question is, What happens now?"
Amid the celebratory atmosphere was also some anxiety. Most Kenyans have never known life without Mr. Moi around.
"Moi has always had a grip on peace that has seemed to evade some African leaders," said John Kiniti, 25, one of the many Kenyans who criticize Mr. Moi but find things to appreciate about his long rule. "My only prayer is that the new leader carries on the torch."
Mr. Kiniti said he would keep Mr. Moi's portrait hanging in his living room even after the leader goes, along with one of Mr. Kibaki.
Mary Ann Wangunyu, a teenager who has grown up with just one president, said she felt as though her security blanket was gone. "I've known KANU all of my life and at least I know what to expect of them," she said. "It's all in God's hands now."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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