Kenyan govt faces tough challenge

Kenyan govt faces tough challenge

NAIROBI – Kenya’s government risks an embarrassing defeat in a constitutional referendum today seen as a test of strength ahead of elections in 2007.

A rally in Nairobi held by foes of President Mwai Kibaki’s new constitution on Saturday in a final push for votes was markedly bigger than a rival public gathering of the “Yes” camp. Rallies in the capital often reflect political affiliation in the rest of Kenya, the most developed country in east Africa.”I conclude that if there is a solid voter turnout, the ‘No’s will have it,” said constitutional lawyer Patrick Lumumba.The rumbustious opposition gathering drew an estimated 30 000 supporters, against 12 000 for the government event.”A referendum is all about numbers, and the opposition seemed to attract more people,” said Ludeki Chweya, who teaches government at the University of Nairobi.Kibaki, 74, is leading the campaign for a new constitution, billed as an effort to improve governance in a country impoverished by decades of autocratic rule and theft of state funds under his strongman predecessor Daniel arap Moi.Critics argue the vote is an attempt to silence cabinet dissidents who say he has concentrated power in a clique from his Kikuyu tribe and been complacent in the fight against graft.The tussle between “Yes” and “No” camps has deepened a split in Kibaki’s fractious government and injected an ugly dose of tribalism into politics ahead of 2007’s polls.Riots convulsed Nairobi for three days in July when the text of the constitution was published, killing at least one person.Another eight have died in riots around campaign rallies.The main controversy over the charter has to do with the powers of the president, with critics saying it ignores the desire of most Kenyans to balance those powers with a strong prime minister’s post and other checks.Kibaki’s campaign, which uses the symbol of a banana, seems to be flagging.Kenyans say that is due mostly to disappointment with his record on creating jobs and fighting high-level graft.The main opposition party and a dissident faction from Kibaki’s ruling National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) are opposing the new charter under the symbol of an orange.The fruits were chosen by the electoral commission to help illiterate voters.Kibaki’s own large Kikuyu community in central Kenya is expected to support the constitution, out of ethnic solidarity and because he has provided new roads for the region.Some 19 000 local observers and between 150 and 160 diplomats will monitor the poll, which will take place between 7am and 5 pm.More than 11 million Kenyans are eligible to vote, with results expected early tomorrow.- Nampa-ReutersRallies in the capital often reflect political affiliation in the rest of Kenya, the most developed country in east Africa.”I conclude that if there is a solid voter turnout, the ‘No’s will have it,” said constitutional lawyer Patrick Lumumba.The rumbustious opposition gathering drew an estimated 30 000 supporters, against 12 000 for the government event.”A referendum is all about numbers, and the opposition seemed to attract more people,” said Ludeki Chweya, who teaches government at the University of Nairobi.Kibaki, 74, is leading the campaign for a new constitution, billed as an effort to improve governance in a country impoverished by decades of autocratic rule and theft of state funds under his strongman predecessor Daniel arap Moi.Critics argue the vote is an attempt to silence cabinet dissidents who say he has concentrated power in a clique from his Kikuyu tribe and been complacent in the fight against graft.The tussle between “Yes” and “No” camps has deepened a split in Kibaki’s fractious government and injected an ugly dose of tribalism into politics ahead of 2007’s polls.Riots convulsed Nairobi for three days in July when the text of the constitution was published, killing at least one person.Another eight have died in riots around campaign rallies.The main controversy over the charter has to do with the powers of the president, with critics saying it ignores the desire of most Kenyans to balance those powers with a strong prime minister’s post and other checks.Kibaki’s campaign, which uses the symbol of a banana, seems to be flagging.Kenyans say that is due mostly to disappointment with his record on creating jobs and fighting high-level graft.The main opposition party and a dissident faction from Kibaki’s ruling National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) are opposing the new charter under the symbol of an orange.The fruits were chosen by the electoral commission to help illiterate voters.Kibaki’s own large Kikuyu community in central Kenya is expected to support the constitution, out of ethnic solidarity and because he has provided new roads for the region.Some 19 000 local observers and between 150 and 160 diplomats will monitor the poll, which will take place between 7am and 5 pm.More than 11 million Kenyans are eligible to vote, with results expected early tomorrow.- Nampa-Reuters

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