Kenyans line up to vote in referendum on draft constitution

Thousands of Kenyans lined up Monday to vote in a referendum on a draft constitution that spells out how East Africa's largest economy will be run and its resources shared. Voting began later than the scheduled 7:00 a.m (0400 GMT) at some polling stations because election material arrived late for Kenya's first ever referendum since its 1963 independence from Britain. The draft charter has divided the government and its people, spawning bitter debate and violent campaigning that killed at least seven people.

Both supporters and opponents of the proposed constitution agree that Kenya needs a new charter to curb decades of abuse of power by its leaders. But they disagree on its contents.

"I will vote 'no' because the proposed constitution will kill the opposition since the president will have powers to appoint Cabinet ministers from opposition parties without consulting their leaders," said Frederick Kyalo, a 33-year-old father of one. "If we do not have an effective opposition, then the rights of the citizens will be violated again."

But Wilson Kamita said he would vote for the new constitution because it has provisions that would benefit the interests of both the young and the old and it even has clauses to protect the environment.

"We have struggled for many years for a new constitution and this is it," the 55-year old electrician said while waiting for his turn to vote.

The vote was also seen as a referendum on President Mwai Kibaki, who was elected in 2002 on a platform of fighting corruption, reforming the government, curbing unemployment and improving conditions for Kenyans.

Many believe he has failed to deliver on those promises.

Kibaki, however, said on the eve of the vote that the proposed charter would lay the foundation for change.

"I have confidence that we have a constitution that will create better conditions for rapid development all over the country," he said.

There is concern that the results may be tainted by allegations of vote buying and preparation for rigging. An international anti-corruption watchdog published a list of what voters should look out for to prevent their vote from being stolen and stop either side from winning the referendum through fraud.

Critics argue that the proposed charter fails to curb presidential powers because it rejects proposals to share the executive authority between the head of state, vice president, prime minister, the Cabinet and regional governments.

Supporters says the charter introduces land reforms, including banning foreigners from owning land and reducing the term for which foreigners can lease land, from 999 years to 99 years.

But some of the proposed reforms have angered some voters who say a provision that gives women the right to inherit family land goes against the practices of some tribes.

Kibaki appealed for calm and said security agencies would deal firmly with anyone attempting to disrupt the referendum in which voters will mark a banana for a yes or an orange for no. A third of Kenyan adults cannot read, reports the AP. I.L.

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