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Friday, August 6, 2010

Kenya votes Yes to new constitution

Kenyans voted in favor of a new constitution in a peaceful referendum that could restructure the political landscape of east Africa’s largest economy.
With provisional results from more than half of the polling stations released by the electoral authority, 67 percent of Kenyans had backed the charter, making it extremely unlikely the "No" camp could catch up.
The "Yes" camp claimed victory late on Thursday morning with Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi saying Kenyans had spoken with a "thunderous voice" and that "Kenya has been truly reborn."
Higher Education Minister William Ruto, leader of the "No" side, then conceded defeat but quickly went on the offensive before a news conference due to be held later by the winners, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Ruto said 60 percent of registered voters had abstained or said "No," so there should be immediate consultations with the "Yes" side on agreeing amendments to the new draft.
Coming two years after allegations over vote-rigging in a presidential election ignited violence that killed 1,300 people, the referendum boosted the Kenyan shilling against the dollar and extended the Kenyan stock market’s recent gains.
The changes put to voters on Wednesday allow for greater checks on presidential powers, more devolution to grassroots administrations and an increase in civil liberties.
The new legal framework addresses the corruption, political patronage, land-grabbing and tribalism which have plagued Kenya since it won independence from Britain in 1963.
"Confidence was a key requirement for economic turnaround, and the peaceful passage of the vote should do a lot to underscore that," said Razia Khan, Africa economist at Standard Chartered Bank.
PROTECTION AGAINST UPHEAVAL
After years of marred elections, the charter is seen as an important step in avoiding a repeat of the post-election tribal bloodshed in early 2008 that pushed the country of about 40 million people to the brink of anarchy.
Kenya, which borders Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, is the fourth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.
Despite the loss, Ruto’s ambition to run for president in the 2012 election was bolstered by a big win for the "No" camp in the Rift Valley. Ruto, a cabinet minister based in Kenya’s largest province, had championed the cause of voters who were angry about clauses related to land ownership and he said these contentious issues must now be addressed by the government.
"We urge the winners and losers to come together for the sake of the country so we can concentrate on development issues," said Jane Njeri, who is living in a camp in Gilgil for Kenyans displaced by past electoral violence.
In the fertile Rift Valley, the "No" camp’s stronghold and the epicenter of the violence after the last election, some said Kenyans should now unite and reject divisive politics.
"The real issue lies with our leaders. Reform is not only on paper but I doubt the leaders can unite. They protect their ill-gotten wealth by pitting communities against each other," said Tom Murgor, 55, a civil engineer and Kalenjin in Eldoret.
The fighting in the Rift Valley after the last election essentially pitted ethnic Kalenjins supporting the opposition against the Kikuyu tribe of Kibaki.
No major incidents were reported at Kenya’s 27,689 polling stations. Some 12.5 million people were registered to vote.
By 0730 GMT, the "Yes" camp had 4.2 million votes with 2.1 million against. Final results were expected later on Thursday.
To be adopted, the law required 50 percent plus one vote of the ballot cast nationally, and at least 25 percent of the votes in five of Kenya’s eight provinces.
Regional election observers said they were satisfied with the voting process, and called for calm during the count.
The new charter was a key provision in the power-sharing deal struck between then-rivals Kibaki and Odinga to end the violence after the 2007 election. Analysts said the win would support Odinga’s presidential ambitions. 

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