(ENI) Roman Catholic and Protestant church leaders in Kenya have urged the country's opposition parties to accept the result of December's parliamentary and presidential elections in which the incumbent president and his ruling party were returned to power, despite the many economic and social problems the country faces.
Daniel arap Moi, aged 73, was sworn in as President on 5 January for what he has said will be his fifth and final term in office after gaining more than 40 per cent in the vote, beating his closest challenger, the Democratic Party's Mwai Kibaki, by about 10 per cent.
The church leaders urged both the government and the opposition to start healing the "traumatic" experiences of the elections, which were scheduled for 29 December, but which had to be extended for an extra day due to a chaotic start.
In the parliamentary elections, the ruling Kenya African National Unity won 107 seats to the combined opposition total of 100 seats.
The country's two main opposition leaders have complained of irregularities in the election and that the vote was neither free nor fair.
However, in a sermon on 11 January, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi, Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki, said: "We may not respect the results, but we must accept them. I am not saying there were no irregularities, but we cannot keep dwelling on bygones. The onus is on us to prepare ourselves for the next elections."
Kenya's Anglican leader, Archbishop David Gitari, said that all Kenyans, including the president and the opposition, "were guilty of the irregularities and suspicions that characterised the elections".
Soon after the elections, some church officials described them as a "representation of the wishes of the majority of Kenyans". This prompted bitter criticism by some opposition leaders. At a press conference in Nairobi on 3 January, the general secretary of the National Christian Council of Kenya (NCCK), Mutawa Musyimi, speaking on behalf of the NCCK, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and a secular body, the Institute for Education in Democracy, said that, despite many anomalies and flaws, "the results reflected the wishes of Kenyans".
More than 25 000 poll watchers and observers, working on behalf of the three organisations, had been present at polling stations during the two days of voting.
But opposition leader Mwai Kibaki said: "If they [the churches] can accept the results of a rigged election, are they not agents of Satan?"
According to political analysts in Nairobi, relations between the churches and the opposition parties are now at their lowest level for months. Meanwhile, a plea by Kenya's Catholic bishops for President arap Moi to set up a broad and all-inclusive coalition government in a spirit of reconciliation has been ignored. The President has constituted his cabinet of 23 ministers exclusively from his own political party, KANU.