Candidates running for the presidency in Kenya went head to head in a final televised debate before one of the most highly contested election in the nation's history.

Eight candidates, some of whom have been in public office for years, were on Monday taken to task to defend past actions and answer accusations of corruption in the run-up to the March 4 vote.

Al Jazeera's Mohamed Adow, reporting from Nairoibi, said that corruption was also a big issue in the debates.

"The gloves came off on the segment of the debate when the candidates were questioned on corruption," he said. "It seemed like each and every one of them had something to answer for, something in their past."

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Odinga was asked by moderator Uduak Amimio to explain a scandal involving ministers in his government over subsidised maize, which ultimately resulted in shortages.

"When we got information that there had been some indiscretion, I asked the officers who had been mentioned in my office - the permanent secretary and the chief of staff - to step down for investigations. I also suspended two ministers, but as you know, my action was countermanded," Odinga said.

He denied a follow-up question by Amimio about corruption within the health ministry.

But unless Odinga or his top challenger Uhuru Kenyatta wins at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off for president will be held, likely sometime in April.

That vote holds even more potential for violence than the March 4 ballot, according to analysts.

Kenyatta questions

Kenyatta was asked about a supplemental budget he presented and put up for a vote in parliament in 2009.

What became known as computer or typographical error meant that parliament voted on a bill surrounding budget gaps that were reflecting the wrong numbers, differing by some $103m.

It was later investigated and Kenyatta was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"We acknowledged that particular error, the matter was investigated by both the parliamentary committee, the IMF and also the office of the auditor general and it was found to be precisely that, an error," Kenyatta said in the debate.

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Candidate Mohammed Abduba Dida presented a surprise challenge during the debate.

Al Jazeera's James Brownsell, reporting from Nairobi, said many of the people he had spoken to during and after the debate were particularly impressed with Abduba Dida's performance.

"The schoolteacher was virtually unknown just a few months ago, but has held his ground in this debate, and won support for his plain speaking," he said.

The coalition government that was created to end the December 2007 post-election mayhem, and which gave Raila Odinga the premiership and Mwai Kibaki the presidency, ends with this year's election. The current president Mwai Kibaki is not seeking re-election.

Inter-tribal tensions

The March 4 vote sees several local, regional and national level races and will be the first election since a disputed contest five years ago that sparked weeks of inter-tribal violence.

Complicating this year's vote, Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court over allegations he helped orchestrate the 2007-08 election violence.

The charges include crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and persecution, over the violence that that left 1,200 dead.

The Kenya Red Cross says violence that killed more than 200 people and displaced nearly 120,000 across Kenya late last year had political overtones.

Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, are both due to attend a session at the ICC in mid-April, potentially right in the middle of the campaign for the second-round presidential vote.

There are fears that violence may return again in this election season.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies