Democracy in Kenya

BRISTLING over the singular failure to defeat President Daniel arap Moi, Kenya's main opposition leaders seem to have missed the fact that something significant has happened in their country.

Despite evidence of election rigging Dec. 29 in the country's first multiparty ballot in 26 years, the democratic process worked. Although President Moi retained his grip on power, Kenya has shed one-party rule. Six opposition parties captured at least 88 of the 200 seats in Parliament, previously a rubber stamp for Moi's policies. Voters rejected 15 of Moi's Cabinet ministers.

But such gains, as well as the stability of the country, are in jeopardy. The three main opposition presidential candidates have rejected the election results, alleging wholesale fraud. Their decision not to fill the parliamentary seats is disappointing.

International observers have criticized the Moi government for widespread irregularities. There were reports of vote-buying and busing of voters to fortify constituencies in favor of the ruling party. But monitoring groups agree that, on the whole, the poll reflected the will of the voters and a recasting of ballots would be unproductive.

Kenya's opposition could learn a lesson from its counterpart in Ghana. There, opposition parties boycotted the legislative ballot Dec. 29 to protest alleged government manipulation in the presidential poll. Consequently, the ruling party has gained complete control in that country.

Both sides in Kenya must work together to avert widespread unrest and realize the gains made in the past year, since the ban on opposition parties was lifted.

Ethnic divisions, always apparent in Kenyan politics, have grown deeper. The year-long campaign was marred by severe tribal clashes, and voting mirrored tribal allegiances. That and continuing economic decline have undermined stability.

It is time to cut losses and accept gains. By filling its seats in Parliament, the opposition can play a role in reshaping Kenya and hand a triumph to the democratic process in Africa.

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