Kenya's Kibaki to launch re-election campaign

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NAIROBI, Sep 16 (Reuters) Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki was to formally launch his re-election campaign today via a live address widely trailed as announcing a new political party to replace the coalition that brought him to power in 2002.

The veteran 75-year-old politician, who leads polls to win a second term running east Africa's largest economy in an election expected in December, was to speak at 3 pm (1630 hrs IST).

''During his address, the president is expected to state the political party on whose ticket he will seek his second and final term of office as President of Kenya,'' said a statement from his State House office in Nairobi.

Until that statement, Kibaki had not even formally confirmed he was running for re-election, though it was widely assumed.

Local media and some official sources said Kibaki would announce the formation of a new political grouping, the Party of National Unity, as his vehicle for re-election.

He has been without a party since the demise last year of the National Rainbow Coalition, which gave him victory five years ago after the 24-year rule of President Daniel arap Moi.

Although mud was tossed at Moi the day he handed over power to Kibaki, the pair have grown closer in the last two years, and Moi has now endorsed Kibaki's run for re-election.

The official leader of the opposition, Uhuru Kenyatta, who lost against Kibaki in 2002, has also said he will support him.

But Kibaki still faces formidable opposition from Raila Odinga, a firebrand former ally turned critic who heads the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and has the near-total support of his large Luo tribe in western Kenya.

In the most recent opinion poll, Kibaki, who has the powerful Kikuyu tribe behind him, led with 42 per cent, versus 26 per cent for Odinga.

Another opposition presidential candidate not to be dismissed is Kalonzo Musyoka, a lawyer and former foreign minister heading the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K).

Odinga and Musyoka parted political company last month even though most analysts had said their only chance of unseating Kibaki was to stay united and put up one candidate.

Kibaki still has not named a date for the vote, although it is expected to be mid- or late December.

Kibaki is popular among Kenyans for starting free primary education and achieving healthy economic growth, but receives low marks for corruption and the nation's poor infrastructure.

But with power-play and tribalism taking precedence over ideology in Kenyan political circles, Kibaki's speech was sure to herald an intense period of political jostling.

''It's 75 days to the election month and the campaign fiesta is on,'' The Sunday Standard said.

Reuters SW RN1258

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