Rival party members in Kenya threw metal chairs and punches at each other Thursday, while riot police protected ballots on the third day of a vote count that President Daniel arap Moi was leading.
Three main opposition candidates said they would reject a victory by the 73-year-old Moi, alleging he could win the drawn-out election only with vote-rigging.
In an unusual rebuttal, the government said it would “deal swiftly and firmly” with anyone who interfered with the general election.
Moi is seeking a fifth, five-year term. With unofficial results reported from 69 percent of constituencies, Moi held a nearly 336,000-vote lead, the private Kenya Television Network reported. Moi had 1,686,742 votes, followed by Mwai Kibaki, a former vice president, with 1,351,164, KTN reported.
Tempers were frayed by an unprecedented two-day vote marred by accusations of vote fraud and eight deaths in political violence. The painstaking process of counting the ballots by hand through three sleepless nights only worsened moods.
After Moi and Kibaki, Raila Odinga had 560,594 votes, Michael Wamalwa trailed with 383,421 votes, and Charity Ngilu, Kenya’s first female presidential candidate, had 228,284, KTN reported.
Riot police were deployed to guard uncounted ballots and calm a dispute at a Nairobi counting center set off by an addition error.
Moi won the vote there by two votes, election official Rosemary Moraa announced. Kibaki supporters, who had expected their candidate to win, howled protests.
Bickering exploded into a brief brawl - rival supporters threw metal and plastic chairs and punched away at their opponents. Riot police, their truncheons and battered shields raised, pressed in.
Nervous onlookers shouted, “Peace, peace,” and the battle subsided.
After a recount, Kibaki won with 17,154 votes there to Moi’s 16,651.
“This is so difficult, and it’s been going on for days,” said Moraa, who said she has had just one break since Monday - five minutes to sing in the New Year.
No champagne, she said, explaining, “I didn’t want my counters to make mistakes.”
Kibaki, who served as Moi’s vice president for 10 years, and Odinga, the son of the late Kenyan opposition leader Oginga Odinga, held a joint news conference Thursday to denounce election procedures. Wamalwa endorsed their remarks in a fax.
“We shall not accept rigged elections, and…we shall cooperate with all other democratic forces in ensuring that justice and peace are achieved,” Kibaki said.
The ruling Kenya African National Union rebuked the opposition leaders. “KANU resents the implied threat to create disorder as election defeat looms for the opposition,” said Simeon Nyachae, a KANU legislator.
The group that spearheaded the move for political reforms in Kenya, the National Convention Executive Council, said flatly the disorganized election should be declared null and void.