Kenya votes amid high security

2010-08-04 10:30

Kenyans formed long lines in the capital Nairobi before sunrise

today to vote on a new constitution that would reduce the powers of the

presidency in the nation’s first ballot since post-election violence left more

than 1 000 dead.


Leaders here have called on the country to carry out a peaceful

referendum, and promised increased security to ward off the violence that

plagued the last national vote.

Police say they are better placed to deal with post-vote violence

than the last national vote in 2008, when gangs hacked opponents to death and

police were accused of shooting sprees.

Enthusiasm for the new constitution appeared high in the Nairobi

slum of Kibera, where lines formed as early as 3am, according to election worker

George Rabalah.

Businessman Sam Ochieng (35) said: “We are making history. Many of

us were not here when we got the first constitution after independence, and it

does not suit us.”

The international community, and particularly the United States,

has urged Kenyans to pass the constitution, even as the draft has raised

emotions over land rights, abortion and Muslim family courts. Kenya negotiated

its current constitution with Britain, from which it gained independence in

1963.

The referendum is one of the conditions of the power-sharing

agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minster Raila Odinga that

ended the 2008 violence.

Both back the new constitution, and both appealed to Kenyans to

vote peacefully.

Police have increased their presence in particular in the Rift

Valley, where violence in 2008 was heavy. James Otumba voted in the town of

Naivasha.

Otumba (43) a geography teacher who was shot in the chest during

the 2008 violence said: “It’s a struggle between the haves and the have-nots in

this country, and the haves are trying to maintain the status quo. This is a

revolution taking place in this country and I cannot be left behind. This

constitution is one thing that can actually reconcile the nation.”

Political and religious leaders campaigning against the

constitution alleged the government plans to rig the vote, saying they used a

branch of the police force to impersonate campaign agents during the

count.

The “No” camp said they had informed the electoral commission and

had put in place measures to guard against rigging, and election officials said

that the tallying will be broadcast live on TV and radio. The “No” team also

urged voters to refrain from violence.

The head of Kenya’s electoral commission said that vote tallying

will be more transparent than during the last election, when claims of vote

rigging led to violence.

The count will be broadcast live on TV and radio.

The leaders of the “Yes” campaign called on Kenyans to remain

peaceful.

Anyang Nyongo, government minister of the Medical Services

ministry, said: “We shall accept the democratic choice of the Kenyan people and

we shall congratulate the Kenyan people for doing a good job.”

The “No” vote is backed by most of Kenya’s church community, which

objects to a clause that says abortion is permitted if the life or health of the

mother is in danger according to the opinion of a “trained health

professional”.

The draft also has stirred emotions over publicly funded family

courts for Muslims.

Polls show the constitution is likely to pass. Politicians and

analysts predict the referendum will be largely peaceful, but at least 200

people in the volatile Rift Valley have fled their homes, fearing a new

flare-up.

Odinga said yesterday that the world had come to believe Kenyans

cannot hold peaceful votes and he asked the country to prove otherwise.

The draft constitution cuts down the president’s enormous powers by

setting up an American-style presidential system of checks and balances. Kenyan

presidents have long favoured their own tribesmen in the distribution of

resources, a source of tension here.


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