Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Kenyan referendum proposes new constitution


Kenyans supporting the ``No'' campaign for a proposed new constitution hold oranges, a symbol for ``No'' campaigners, during a final campaign rally yesterday, ahead of a referendum on a proposed constitution in Nairobi.The campaign for Monday's referendum -- Kenya's first since its 1963 independence from Britain -- has been marred by violence in which at least seven people have died at campaign rallies.


Kenyans set out to write a new constitution to reflect aspirations for better government and unify this country of more than 40 tribes.

Instead, the nation is sharply divided as it prepares for a vote tomorrow on the proposed charter. At least seven people have died in violence at campaign rallies as Kenyans fought over the spirit and the letter of the proposed new charter.

President Mwai Kibaki appealed for calm on Friday and said his government would deal firmly with anyone attempting to disrupt the referendum in which voters will choose a banana for yes or an orange for no -- a third of Kenyan adults cannot read.

Rival rallies in Nairobi yesterday would allow both sides a final show of strength before voters cast their ballots at 19,134 polling stations across the country. Kenya has about 11.6 million registered voters, out of a population of 34 million.

There has been only one opinion poll, released by a local firm and Gallup International on Oct. 21. The poll showed opposition at 42 percent and support at 32 percent -- leaving a large block undecided.

Opponents say the proposed constitution does not do enough to curb presidential powers. They have cast the vote as a referendum on Kibaki, whom they accuse of abandoning his commitment to democratic reform.

Kibaki has campaigned in favor of the new constitution, though members of his own Cabinet oppose it. Kibaki has argued that the proposed constitution would create a workable balance by dividing power among the presidency, parliament and district governments.

The document on which Kenyans will vote has been public since August, crafted by Attorney General Amos Wako from a draft created by a National Constitutional Conference in March last year and one proposed by parliament in July.

Wako's 197-page combination appears closer to parliament's draft, which critics had charged gave the president too much power and contained provisions that were rejected by the constitutional conference.

Like parliament, Wako proposed a prime minister who would be appointed -- and could be dismissed -- by the president. Some have argued that the only legitimate draft emerged from a constitutional conference and an earlier exercise that saw a government-appointed commission soliciting views of ordinary Kenyans across the country.

Maina Kiai, chairman of the government-appointed Kenya National Human Rights Commission, despairs of the whole process, saying it has been hijacked by politicians who have resorted to appealing to tribal loyalties rather than debating the content of the draft charter.

"The referendum is not about the constitution ... it's about power," Kiai said.

The constitution rewriting process has "completely divided us," he said, adding nothing has been done to prepare to bridge divisions once the vote is over.

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