Record number of Kenyans run for parliament seats

When Kenyans vote for a parliament in September, their ballots will display a somewhat unusual list of candidates: lions, axes, planes, hoes, wheelbarrows, to name but a few.

This is because the government recognizes that many of its people are illiterate. So each of the 1,200 parliamentary candidates - an extraordinary number for this country - will choose a symbol for their names on the ballot.

More than 6 million voters are expected to go to the polls to elect 158 members of parliament. President Daniel arap Moi and all Cabinet ministers must also run for reelection to hold their seats - positions that in Kenya mean power , prestige, and sometimes also big business deals.

President Moi will almost certainly be unopposed, but Kenya had a shock last week when coffee farmer Titus Mboga declared his intention to oppose Vice-President Mwai Kibaki in his constituency. It is the first time an incumbent vice-president has been opposed for reelection.

Mr. Moi called this election a year before constitutionally necessary after deep political divisions surfaced in his Cabinet. A year ago a coup attempt shook his administration, and the government's reputation has suffered from charges of corruption and poor management.

Moi wants to restore Kenya's image as a rock of stability in Africa. With a good reputation comes foreign investment, which is vitally important to Kenya's economy, one of the third world's liveliest capitalist economies. But the economy has lagged recently. The aim is to increase an already significant foreign financial role here. Foreign aid has been flowing in at record levels from Britain, Europe, and the United States.

But the effort to restore Kenya's reputation has not been helped by the political crisis over Charles Njonjo. Once one of the most powerful men in Kenya , Njonjo has been accused of a role in an alleged plot to overthrow Moi. The President suspended Njonjo from his post as minister for constitutional affairs. He was forced to resign from parliament, and some say he is unlikely to contest his seat at Kikuyu.

There will be a judicial inquiry into the Njonjo case. The feisty politician is likely to put up a strong defense. Many say the charges against him may have been trumped up by government figures jealous of his power and influence.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.