Nairobi - Long lines of Kenyans queued from far before dawn
to vote Monday in the first election since the violence-racked polls five years
ago, with a deadly police ambush hours before polling started marring the key
The tense elections are seen as a crucial test for Kenya,
with leaders vowing to avoid a repeat of the bloody 2007-8 post-poll violence
in which over 1 100 people were killed, with observers repeatedly warning of
the risk of renewed conflict.
Voters standing in snaking lines several hundreds of metres long - and several people thick -- crowded
peacefully outside polling stations to partake in one of the most complex
elections Kenya has ever held.
People began lining up outside polling stations from as
early as 04:00 to cast their votes, two hours ahead of the official opening of
the polls, with delays reported in some areas.
In middle-class areas of Nairobi, parked cars blocked the streets
around polling stations.
Tensions were high in the port city of Mombasa, where an
ambush blamed on a separatist movement killed five police officers hours before
the opening of polling stations, said regional police chief Aggrey Adoli.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo said there had been
"casualties from both sides" when an armed gang ambushed police
officers in Kenya's second city.
"There was a clash between people we suspect are MRC
attackers," Kimaiyo said, referring to the Mombasa Republican Council
(MRC), a group seeking the secession of the coastal region popular with
"We are not worried"
Police have blamed the MRC for a string of attacks last
year, and the group had threatened to boycott the polls.
Despite the attack, voters packed the streets in the city.
"We are not worried, we are voting," said
architect Said Said, waiting to cast a ballot at a primary school.
In one of the most complex polls Kenya has ever held, voters
will cast six ballots, voting for a new president, parliamentarians, governors,
senators, councillors and special women's representatives. Some 14.3 million
Kenyans are eligible to vote at the more than 30 000 polling stations across
"It's a very good day, because we are looking for a
change," said Denis Kaene, 34, an unemployed resident of Kibera, who
started queuing at 03:45. "It will be a very calm day, I want peaceful
"We have been waiting for this moment for five years.
It is time for new leaders," said 38-year old high school teacher Timothy
Njogu outside the Ngara polling station in Nairobi's Starehe constituency.
Neck-and-neck rivals for the presidency, Prime Minister
Raila Odinga and his deputy Uhuru Kenyatta, have publicly vowed there will be
no repeat of the bloodshed that followed the disputed 2007 polls.
Crimes against humanity trials later this year at The
Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for Kenyatta and running mate
William Ruto have raised the stakes: should they win the vote, the president
and vice-president could be absent on trial for years.
After hard-fought campaigns tensions are running high.
In Nairobi's shanty town Kibera, scene of some of the worst
ethnic clashes during the 2007 elections - and where a tired looking Odinga
voted surrounded by a mob by journalists - thousands waited to cast their
ballots, with the start of voting delayed for almost an hour.
"We can win these elections in the first round...At the
end of the day we will definitely be declared the winner," Odinga said
Ahmed Issack Hassan, Independent Electoral and Boundaries
Commission (IEBC) chairperson, said he was "aware of the challenges faced
in various parts of the country" and were addressing them, appealing for
voters to "be patient".
More than 99 000 police have been deployed to ensure the
vote is peaceful, and about 23 000 observers, including 2 600 international
monitors, will be on hand, officials say.
In the western town of Kisumu - the heartland of Odinga
supporters who went on the rampage in 2007-2008 after he was controversially
pipped to the top job by President Mwai Kibaki - people blew whistles and sang
as they waited to vote.
"We slept here last night because we want real change
and we want our candidate - Raila," said Susan Morell, 30. "We want
real change but we want peace. We will accept the result as it comes out
because we are sure of winning."
The 2007-2008 violence exposed widespread disenchantment
with the political class, deep tribal divisions and shattered Kenya's image as
a beacon of regional stability.
More checks are in place this time to limit vote rigging,
while a new constitution devolves powers and has made the poll less of a