Kenyans to vote in tense presidential race

The outgoing Kenyan President has all appealed for a peaceful poll after the disputed vote years ago.

Outgoing Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has called for peace at voting polls. Picture: Supplied

NAIROBI - Kenyans vote on Monday in a presidential election that will test whether the east African nation can restore its reputation as one of Africa's more stable democracies after a lethal ethnic rampage erupted following the 2007 poll.

Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, the candidates and civil society groups have all appealed for a peaceful poll after the disputed vote five years ago unleashed a wave of killing by rival tribes that lasted weeks and left more than 1,200 people dead.

"I also make a passionate plea for all of us to vote peacefully. Indeed, peace is a cornerstone of our development," Kibaki, barred from seeking a third five-year term, told Kenyans in a televised address before polling day.

Yet, as in 2007, the race has come down to a high-stakes head-to-head between two candidates, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and once again both will depend heavily on votes from loyalists of rival tribes.

Though well ahead of six other contenders, polls suggest neither may be able to command enough ballots for an outright victory in the first round, which could set the stage for a tense run-off tentatively set for 11 April. A narrow first round victory for either could raise prospects for legal challenges.

Kenya's neighbours are watching nervously, after their economies felt the shockwaves when violence five years ago shut down trade routes running through east Africa's biggest economy. Some landlocked states have stockpiled fuel and other materials.

The United States and other Western states are worried about the conduct of a poll in a state seen as a vital ally in the regional battle against militant Islam. Adding to election tensions, al Shabaab militants, battling Kenyan peacekeeping troops in Somalia, issued a veiled threat days before the vote.

But the West also frets about the result of the presidential race. One of the top candidates, Kenyatta, is indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.