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New constitution rejected in referendum

[Kenya] Voters wait to cast their ballots at Westlands, Nairobi, during Monday's referendum on a new constitution.
Voters wait to cast their ballots at Westlands, Nairobi, during Monday's referendum on the proposed constitution (John Nyaga/IRIN)

Kenya's proposed new constitution has been rejected in a referendum despite its having been supported by President Mwai Kibaki and other key figures in his government, the country's electoral commission announced on Tuesday.

The number of voters who cast their ballot against the proposed constitution was 3.5 million, or 57 percent of the vote, compared to 2.5 million or 43 percent in favour, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) Samuel Kivuitu said.

"We declare that the proposed new constitution was not ratified by voters as provided by the law," Kivuitu said when he announced the results of Monday's plebiscite.

Returns from a few of the country's 210 parliamentary constituencies where results had not been received would not significantly alter the total number of ballots cast for either side, he added.

Earlier, Kibaki, who had urged Kenyans to approve the proposed new constitution, said he had accepted the verdict of the people.

"It is clear that the majority of the people have opposed the proposed new constitution - it is a big step in strengthening democracy," said Kibaki. "I congratulate you all for taking part in this historic event peacefully," he added.

He said that the country would continue to be run in accordance with the existing constitution and that issues regarding constitutional review would continue to be addressed as provided for under the law.

Speaking on behalf of politicians who campaigned to have the draft constitution rejected, the official leader of the opposition in parliament, Uhuru Kenyatta, invited those who voted in favour of the document to join the winning side and work for a better basic law for the country.

"We want to work with you to create the Kenya we, all of us together, aspire to," said Kenyatta. "A policy of national inclusion is the only one that can hold us together and ensure that we meet the very basic aspirations our people have," he added.

The rejected draft constitution would have replaced the country's charter, which came into force when Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963.

The debate on Kenya's draft constitution split Kibaki's administration. The president and his camp favoured the new constitution, but six cabinet ministers spearheaded a campaign to reject the document in the referendum.

They argued that the draft maintained a presidency with overriding powers, pointing out that Kenyans started agitating for a new constitution more than 15 years ago because they believed that Kibaki's predecessor had misused presidential powers to undermine democracy and weaken the economy.

Supporters of the draft constitution, on the other hand, maintained that presidential powers had been significantly curtailed in the proposed basic law.

They pointed out, for example, that under the new document all presidential appointments were to be subjected to vetting by parliament and that the president was required to share executive power with a prime minister, various constitutional commissions and proposed district governments.

Both sides also differed on the details of the proposed devolution of powers from the national government to district governments.

The rejection of the proposed constitution was widely seen as a significant blow to Kibaki and a boost for his Roads and Public Works Minister Raila Odinga, the de-facto leader of the ministers who waged an unrelenting campaign for the rejection of the draft constitution.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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