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Kenyans Reject New Charter

After several weeks of highly charged, divisive arguments between those supporting the new constitution and those against, Kenyans finally rejected the charter in the historic referendum.

Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) Samuel Kivuitu announced on Tuesday afternoon that the draft bill has been rejected in Monday's referendum.

The latest results given by the ECK show that opponents of the proposed charter had won 3,548,477 votes, or 57 percent of ballots that had been counted by Tuesday afternoon, gaining an unassailable lead of more than a million votes. Supporters garnered 2,532,918 votes, or 43 percent.

Shortly before the announcement, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in a televised speech conceded defeat in the referendum on the draft constitution which was soundly rejected by his people.

In an address to the nation from state house, Kibaki said there were no winners or losers in the referendum as the objective of the important process was to determine the people's choice and that choice has been made.

"The people have made a choice and as I have always said, my government would respect the choice of the people," he said.

After talking about the merits and demerits of the charter, which would have replaced the current one drawn up on the eve of the east African nation's independence in 1963, Kenyans have finally sealed the fate of the 197-page document which critics say do little to curb the all-powerful presidency or alter the system of government.

The concentration of power and patronage in the hands of previous presidents has been blamed for much of the widespread corruption in Kenya.

The campaigns before the referendum were marked by tribalism, belligerent rhetoric, sporadic violence and the deaths of at least nine people, and the vote is being widely viewed as a referendum on the government and a battle for power between the political elite.

While the drafted constitution improves women's economic rights and introduces local democracy, critics say it gives too much power to the president and contains many conservative values.

The process of reviewing the constitution has been going on for at least five years, and has generated extreme temperatures in the country's political landscape.

The most obvious split has been within Kibaki's shaky coalition, with at least seven ministers joining ranks with the opposition to campaign for a No vote, while the president and his supporters promote the Yes vote.

Both camps agree that the existing constitution is outdated and oppressive but have failed to reach consensus on the new one, which has been the subject of debate since 1997.

During the years of ex-president Daniel Moi's authoritarian rule, the demand for a more modern constitution safeguarding democracy was growing.

A growing number of Kenyans however feel that President Kibaki has not kept his promises to draft "a new people-driven, comprehensive constitution."

Opponents of the draft say it would do little to curb the all-powerful presidency or alter the system of government.

It is based in part on a version drawn up by pro-Kibaki lawmakers, and an earlier draft approved at a national constitutional conference.

The result has caused critics to accuse the government of reneging on promises to create a powerful prime minister's office, reduce presidential powers and decentralize government.

The new draft does cater for a prime minister, but one who will "be accountable to the president" and leader of government business in parliament, rather than head of government.

There are also complaints the proposed devolution of power to districts does not go far enough.

Allies of Roads Minister Raila Odinga, a leader of the No camp in the plebiscite, have hinted a No win would help settle that political score.

Pundits also said the rejection of the constitution will cause immense political difficulties for President Kibaki because returns have shown Kenyans voting according to tribal affiliations. This is a further evidence of how the referendum campaign has split the nation along tribal lines, they said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2005)

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