Polls Close in Kenya's Tight Race

As the polls closed on the most tightly contested presidential race in Kenya's history, the nation's citizens held their collective breath over the results amid allegations of vote rigging and incompetence by the commission running the elections.

There are reports that many of the 14 million Kenyans throughout the nation who lined up to vote started in the middle of the night.

In Kibera, Kenya's largest slum and one of the poorest areas in Africa, many voters said they wanted to vote early and were worried about allegations of vote rigging and delays in opening the polls. Voter Crispin Owuro said he had been at the polling station since 3 a.m., and four hours later the line had still not moved.

But he said that the delays would not deter him or the thousands of others lined up.

"This election is important because you need to choose someone who is going to represent you," said Owuro. "We want to dismiss people [who] cannot really run a government and put people in who can run a government."

Thousands Excluded From Registry

Although there have been no reported incidents of serious violence so far, allegations of fraud have been rampant -- the most serious coming from lead presidential challenger Raila Odinga, who at first was not able to vote in Kibera, home to his constituency, because his name was not on the voter registry. It was discovered that the registry was missing names beginning with the letters O and R, excluding many of the thousands of people who had lined up to vote.

In a press conference with local media, Odinga called the action "deliberate" and accused the government of purposefully excluding voters favorable to him, a charge the Election Commission of Kenya denies. The commission then printed correct registries. Odinga returned to Kibera an hour later to vote. But the mistake could mean that polls must stay open for several hours after the official closing time.

Odinga, 62, a former political prisoner, has been leading incumbent President Mwai Kibaki in opinion polls for weeks. But the gap narrowed right before the election, making this the closest campaign in Kenya's history since independence 43 years ago.

Kibaki, 76, who in 2002 unseated the political party that had ruled Kenya for more than 30 years, is running on a record that includes Kenya's economy growing more than 5 percent annually and free primary education under his administration.

In the Dagnotti area, a Kibaki stronghold, his supporters say the country is moving in the right direction and that there is no need for change

"We've come from a leadership five years ago where things had gone haywire, but now we have seen some development that is very positive, and I believe in appreciating what is good," said a voter named Sylvia, a civil servant.

But Kibaki's critics accuse him of failing to stem corruption and of inflaming tribal tensions, resulting in a concentration of the nation's wealth and power primarily with his tribe, the Kikuyus, and leaving a nation deeply divided over its future.

Guards and Observers at Polling Stations

There are more than 10,000 election observers throughout Kenya, both local and representatives from foreign missions like the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Armed guards and police also lined all the polling stations.

Chief EU election observer Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told Reuters today that he didn't think the election mix-ups were the result of voter fraud but occurred because of the huge voter turnout.

"There's so many people here and it's really chaotic," Lambsdorff told Reuters.

As the polls closed, Reuters reported that a gunman opened fire near the Kibera polling station, killing one man and wounding two others. Police said it was the work of ordinary criminals, but the opposition said the attack was deliberate and political.

Political analysts said that whatever the result, the fact that an incumbent president may be voted out democratically in an African nation, which had its first open elections only five years ago after enduring one-president rule for 24 years, is a major step toward greater democracy.

The candidate who wins the popular vote as well as 25 percent in five of Kenya's eight provinces will win the election. The first official results are expected Friday.