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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 09:08 GMT
Kenyans ready for December poll
Kenyan street vendor selling flags and trinkets in Nairobi

Noel Mwakugu
BBC News, Nairobi

Campaigning for Kenya's general election on 27 December gets under way officially in a week's time, but the two main presidential rivals are already on a charm offensive.

After nearly five years in office, President Mwai Kibaki donned a Muslim religious gown in public for the first time during religious celebrations last month.

His ministers have also been busy with initiatives to make key groups of voters happy.

President Kibaki is seeking a second term and just last weekend he launched a costly looking 10-point re-election manifesto.

His big rival and former ally, Raila Odinga, however is promising a new constitution within six months of taking office - the issue that caused him to fall out with Mr Kibaki in the first place.

And he has also secured the services of former US president Bill Clinton's legendary political consultant, Dick Morris, credited with masterminding the 1996 US election triumph.

A master of the sound bite, Mr Morris said on arrival in Kenya that both Clinton and Odinga were what he called the "people's candidate" and he said that both focused on the needs of the average person.

Kibaki's pledges

When Mr Kibaki came to power in 2002, his administration swiftly introduced free universal primary education.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in Oct 07
Mr Kibaki is standing for re-election for a new alliance, the PNU

The programme has seen primary school enrolment more than double - but some say at the expense of the quality of education delivered by the public schools.

There are complaints of too many students and too few teachers with limited resources and facilities like classrooms are insufficient - especially in rural Kenya.

Despite this, President Kibaki is now promising to provide free secondary school education next year if he is returned to office.

His Education Minister, George Saitoti, however points out that the government will struggle to afford it - and can do little more than waive tuition fees.

Big challenge

Opinion polls make it clear that President Kibaki up against it if he is to secure a second term.

Raila Odinga (front row with hat)  at the ODM 2007 election campaign launch
The ODM is hoping veteran Raila Odinga can hold onto his poll lead

His most formidable challenger, Raila Odinga from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), has also been publishing his election pledges.

His promise of a new constitution will install an executive prime minister, devolve power and end the current over-dependence on central government, he says.

But some pundits question whether, after decades of struggling to reach the top job, Mr Odinga can be trusted to relinquish the powers that come with the Kenyan presidency in favour of a prime minister.

Scramble for votes

Meanwhile the capital, Nairobi, is the epicentre of political activity and the top guns are bracing themselves for a tough fight over its 1.2m registered voters.

Street Hawkers in Kenya's capital Nairobi
The reappearance of street hawkers in Nairobi is an election ploy

Hawkers who had been driven out to the suburbs are back on the streets, forcing pedestrians into the roads.

The filth that had been cleaned up is slowly piling up on the streets again.

Some members of the president's campaign team have privately defended the return of the street sellers in the hope their votes will go Mr Kibaki's way.

The hawkers are making hay while the sun shines, they tell the BBC.

"We know it's easy now because of the elections... come January, we will not be here so we are just making a killing."

In a further bid to endear himself to the hawkers, President Kibaki has promised to construct markets for informal sector traders across the country if elected.

Government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua says the hawkers are only back in Nairobi now because the construction of their new market is not finished.

Pre-election benefits

Some Kenyans are already enjoying some pre-election benefits: last week the government gave civil servants a 16% pay rise, back-dated six months.

"This is not campaigning but if they feel it is a good thing and they vote for President Kibaki, there is no problem with that," Public Service Minister Moses Akaranga said when making the announcement.

And this week, in a move observers say is calculated to win the youth vote, George Saitoti suddenly remembered that some 600,000 high school leavers do not have their graduation certificates - detained by the institutions for non-payment of school fees.

The education minister ordered the immediate release of the vital documents without which the graduates cannot seek formal employment, with a warning of possible disciplinary action for teachers who fail to comply.

Key week

With just over a month before the election, this is a key week, with party primaries to nominate candidates for the parliamentary and civic elections.

ODM supporters turn out for the launch of the 2007 election campaign
The political parties are on the hunt for votes

President Kibaki's latest electoral alliance - the Party of National Unity (PNU) - has yet to agree on how to pick its candidates with the individual parties within the alliance fearing a loss of identity if they agree joint nominations.

Things are no easier over at the ODM whose "think tank" is struggling to choose from an overwhelming number of candidates competing to run on the ODM ticket.

A similar problem affects the ODM-Kenya party whose leader Kalonzo Musyoka is currently far back in third place according to polls.

All the leaders say the nomination process will be fair.

But the "season of election promises" means those who lose out in the primaries will be demanding lucrative appointments in return for their continued loyalty.

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