NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ In an election many thought they would never see, Kenyans headed to the polls Friday on foot, on bicycles and in packed minibuses to determine who will succeed President Daniel arap Moi _ the leader of this East African nation for the past 24 years.
With Moi, 78, constitutionally obliged to step down _ Kenya's first president to do so _ the contest pits the ruling party's Uhuru Kenyatta against Mwai Kibaki, leader of an alliance of opposition parties and the front-runner throughout the campaign.
Both candidates are promising to usher in a new era to this once prosperous nation that is plagued by rampant corruption and an ailing economy.
About 50 people had been waiting for more than an hour when the polls opened at an uncompleted primary school in Gatundu South, the constituency 25 miles north of Nairobi where Kenyatta is seeking the parliamentary seat needed for his presidential bid.
After casting his ballot, Kenyatta said voters would choose him ``because they need a new beginning, a new start, a break from the past.''
There were no reports of violence as polls opened around the country. Unofficial results were expected by early Saturday, and official returns by Sunday or Monday.
Voting proceeded normally in the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, with no indication that two terrorist attacks there a month ago had had any influence on the campaign.
Eleven Kenyans, three Israelis and two or three suicide bombers died when an explosives-laden vehicle slammed into a tourist hotel frequented by Israelis on Nov. 28. At about the same time, attackers fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli aircraft leaving Mombasa for Tel Aviv, but missed.
As vice president, Moi took over in 1978 after the death of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta _ Uhuru's father. The ruling Kenya African National Union Party, or KANU, has run the country since independence from Britain in 1963.
Although three other men are contesting the presidency, Kenyatta and Kibaki are the only ones with a realistic chance of winning. Both are members of the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe.
Kenyatta is Moi's hand-picked choice, but at 41 and with just a year in government, he is a political novice who has never won elective office.
Kibaki is a 71-year-old political veteran who was Moi's vice president from 1978 to 1988. He has been a leading opposition figure since multiparty politics were reintroduced in 1991, and came in second to Moi in 1997 elections.
Both men claim to represent change. Kenyatta argues that he represents a new generation of leaders, while Kibaki says his opposition alliance, the National Rainbow Coalition, or NARC, can right the wrongs of the past 39 years of government under KANU.
Kenya boasts East Africa's largest and most important economy and has remained stable while most of its neighbors _ Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia _ have been plagued by civil conflicts.
But in recent years its economy has hit rock bottom, largely because of corruption and government mismanagement that has scared off foreign investors.
More than half of Kenya's 30 million people live on less than $1 a day, and few have access to water and electricity.
Both KANU and NARC know most Kenyans blame Moi and his ruling party's patronage-based style of government for their country's troubles.
NARC leaders talk as if they have already won; a recent poll, which was commissioned by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, gave Kibaki a 47-point lead over Kenyatta.
``The recovery of our great country now rests with us. The public mood for change is evident,'' Raila Odinga, a leading member of NARC, said Thursday.
Many voters seemed to agree as they cast their ballots Friday.
``We want to make change ... The KANU government has ruined the country,'' said Joel Opiayo, a 37-year-old security guard who supports a wife and four children on $38 a month. He lives in Kibera, the largest slum in eastern Africa.
Some 10.5 million people are registered to vote. Along with a president, they will choose 210 members of parliament and 2,104 local councilors.
Elections in 1992 and 1997 were marred by ethnic violence and allegations of vote-rigging, but the runup to this year's vote has been mostly peaceful.
Some 20,000 Kenyan observers will monitor the election, helped by 140 foreign monitors.