- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya President Daniel arap Moi postponed his retirement and effectively secured another year in power yesterday after his ruling party agreed to delay general elections scheduled for December by up to 12 months.

The opposition, furious at the latest in a series of moves that have drawn comparisons with Robert Mugabe's style of government in Zimbabwe, said they would organize countrywide demonstrations and call for a general strike.

Under Kenya's constitution, Mr. Moi had been obliged to step down 24 years as one of Africa's longest-serving and most autocratic leaders. He had promised on several occasions to hold the elections by the end of this year.

Opposition leaders contend, however, that the president wants another year in office so he can hold a lavish silver jubilee, an idea he apparently got from the recent commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the queen's rule in Britain.

Members of Parliament from the ruling party, KANU, announced they had unanimously resolved to extend the president's term of office and the life of parliament "in order to avoid a constitutional crisis."

Kenya's politicians have been wrangling for the last five years over a new constitution that was supposed to be in place in time for the polls. But a government body appointed to draft it recently announced it would not complete its task on time.

The new constitution is expected to cut the powers the presidency has accumulated through dozens of amendments made to the document Kenya inherited at independence from Britain in 1963.

The Kenyan African National Union said it would give the body until May next year to finish the job. With the debate that follows, existing laws that must be changed and a possible referendum a new constitution would probably not be in place until October, meaning polls could not take place until December, the opposition says.

Under Kenya's existing laws, elections cannot be postponed unless the country is at war. The country's constitution will therefore have to be changed to give legal binding to the proposals. Mr. Moi almost controls the two-thirds of the House needed to pass the vote and can count on support from opposition allies fearful of losing their seats.

Opposition leaders accused Mr. Moi of competing with Mr. Mugabe.

"Mugabe and Moi are birds of a feather," said Charity Ngilu, joint leader of the opposition coalition, the National Alliance for Change. "They behave the same way. They don't want free and fair elections. They run their countries as though they were personal fiefdoms, and they intimidate their citizenry."

Last month Mr. Moi ignored international criticism and signed a bill designed to curb media criticism of his government, legislation remarkably similar to a law passed by Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Moi has also become increasingly vehement in his attacks on the West, and Britain in particular. Leading opposition figures have been beaten up or arrested in recent months. Two weeks ago a British banker seeking to recover outstanding loans from close allies and relatives of the president was deported.

Not since the brutal days of one-party rule in the 1980s, when all opposition was outlawed, has democracy been so threatened, human rights activists say.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon will hold talks with Mr. Moi in Nairobi today and is expected to raise both the media bill and the postponement of the polls.

"Media freedom has been threatened, we don't have a level political playing field and we're going to end up like Zimbabwe," said Shem Ochoudo, leader of the opposition SPARK party. "Kenya should be kicked out of the Commonwealth."

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