Kenyans approved a new constitution on Wednesday according to partial results showing that 65 percent of voters backed new rules circumscribing presidential powers, curtailing political patronage and increasing civil liberties.
AFP - Kenya looked set to acquire a new constitution for the first time since independence as the "yes" camp Thursday confortably led in the vote count after a referendum that belied fears of renewed violence.
With counting still under way, no victor was yet declared by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) but the "yes" camp of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga had a clear lead.
With 12.4 million registered voters in the country, a turnout roughly estimated by polling officials at around 70 percent would mean the "yes" camp needs around 4.3 million votes to secure victory.
The latest provisional figures early Thursday showed it already had 4.1 million votes to the "no" camp's two million, confirming the trend that emerged in pre-referendum opinion polls.
Kenyan papers did not wait for official results to argue that the peaceful polling offered closure two and half years after a bloody election dispute and that the new constitution opened a new chapter.
"The traditional mayhem that has preceded and accompanied successive general elections was a distant memory buried by the orderly queues yesterday," The Standard daily said in an editorial.
A dispute over the results of the December 2007 elections erupted in bloodshed that killed 1,500 people, destroyed public trust in the institutions and shattered Kenya's image on the international scene.
But reconciled 2007 rivals Kibaki and Odinga have campaigned together in favour of the new constitution which introduces more robust safeguards for democracy and human rights.
The peaceful voting and speedy tallying were a stark contrast to the chaos that arose from the confusion and mismanagement that characterised the 2007 counting process.
Politicians refrained from declaring prematurely Thursday but definitive results were expected later in the day.
Odinga nevertheless told AFP when he cast his ballot on Wednesday morning that he had no doubt his pro-constitution camp would "win resoundingly".
Voters went to the polls amid fears, stoked by a deadly grenade attack on a "no" rally in Nairobi in June, that disagreement over the constitution could again plunge the country into violence.
But police had deployed some 70,000 security forces across the country, with particular emphasis on the northwestern Rift Valley, where opposition to the new constitution has been the strongest.
"The referendum exercise was held in a peaceful manner, there has been no single incident at all," national police chief Mathew Iteere told AFP.
Jostling ahead of the 2012 presidential poll has led William Ruto, a cabinet minister, to spearhead the campaign against the new constitution despite being one of its main authors.
Supported by dozens of Kenya's influential churches, the "red" camp has made tempers flare by painting the new constitution as legalising abortion, selling off the justice system to Islam or even considering gay marriage.
Members of Ruto's Kalenjin tribe also fear that new land policies could see their power curtailed.
"The people who have fuelled the question of land are the Kalenjin elite led by the former president (Daniel arap Moi). These are guys who have big farms whose acquisition is still questionable," said Ken Wafula, director of the Edloret-based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
"These are people who have fear and are playing the ethnic card," he said.
The amendment does away with the post of prime minister created for Odinga in 2008, creates a senate, devolves a degree of power to counties and slaps a number of checks and balances on the president.
It is also designed to curtail patronage and rein in the greed that has characterised Kenyan politics, notably by requiring that the entire cabinet be composed of ministers appointed from outside parliament, and limiting their number to 22, less than half the current level.
Date created : 2010-08-04