The room where the 21 frazzled members of Kenya's Electoral Commission are collecting results from the country's second multiparty elections is littered with papers, bread crumbs, and the leftovers of a late breakfast.
As disheveled officials shuttle in and out, the deputy chairman of the commission can be heard relaying election results over the phone. "Yes, yes, these are for Eastern Province," he screams. "Wait, who are you? John? John who?"
In the plushly carpeted room, chaos reigns undisturbed. Even the portrait of Kenya's long-standing president, Daniel arap Moi, is off center. Polling stations finally closed Tuesday evening after a second, unscheduled day of voting marred by conspicuous vote-buying, day-long delays, and violence. Eight people were killed during the two days of voting.
Kenyans turned out in droves to cast their votes only to find that many of the country's 12,700 polling stations had received the wrong ballot papers. In some constituencies, ballot boxes full of votes reportedly appeared out of nowhere. In others, ballot boxes had to be hastily fashioned out of soda cartons as mile-long lines formed outside.
Conceding that voting proceedings have not been "perfect," Electoral Commission chairman Samuel Kivuitu said that some of the responsibility lay with a British printing company, which had mislabeled boxes containing ballot papers. Distribution of ballots was also hampered by weather conditions, he said, with officials unable to reach some flood-hit areas.
In a climate of deepening mistrust, opposition parties categorically refused to accept poll results saying the chaos had only been a front for a well-orchestrated rigging operation on the part of President Moi's Kenya African National Union. Mr. Moi, who is seeking a final, five-year term in office, has vehemently disputed the opposition claims insisting that the rigging has been at his, and KANU's, expense.
In a State radio address Tuesday night, Moi denounced what he called "an obvious scheme to rig ongoing elections in favor of the opposition" but stopped short of rejecting results altogether. Just a few hours earlier, the National Convention Executive Committee grouping opposition leaders, religious organizations, and human right activists had described the elections as a "fantastic farce" marred by "pretended inefficiency" and "staggering fraud" and called for a government of national emergency whose objective would be to pave the way for new elections.
Many of the delays in voting procedures took place in eastern, western and central provinces, all areas dominated by a strong anti-KANU opposition.
Mr. Kivuitu, however, said there was no reason to invalidate election results, pointing out that 60 to 65 percent of Kenyans had managed to cast a vote. Moi is facing 12 presidential candidates who are blaming Kenya's collapsing infrastructure and sloppy administration on 19 years of mismanagement and corruption.
As in 1992, when KANU was pressured into a multiparty system, the president, considered one of Africa's last old-style rulers, is expected to draw advantage from the opposition's inability to rise above tribal divisions.
But Moi's surprising indictment of the Electoral Commission, whose president he personally appointed, prompted some analysts to speculate that a runoff with one of his two closest contenders, Mwai Kibaki of the Democratic Party and Charity Ngilu of the Social Democratic Party, Kenya's first woman candidate, may not be out of the question after all.