Kenya's opposition leaders call for constitutional reform Government refuses to consider changes

September 29, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NAIROBI, Kenya -- With an election looming next year, Kenya's opposition parties are unable to unite behind a single candidate or agree on an agenda with which to challenge President Daniel arap Moi, who has governed for 16 years.

Some opposition leaders say they have given up on beating Moi under the current election system and instead are calling for a new constitution. In recent weeks, they have joined with members of the clergy in calling for a constitutional convention, threatening demonstrations to press the government to accept reforms.

But the governing party, the Kenya African National Union, has flatly refused to consider changing the election rules, much less replacing the constitution. Since few people expect any changes before Moi calls the election sometime in 1997, it looks as though the president will win easily, even if he pulls less than half of the vote, diplomats here say.

Critics say the opposition leaders are misjudging the voting public. Most people in the country care little about constitutional reforms. They are more concerned with unemployment, food shortages, bad roads and poorly run hospitals.

The deck, no doubt, is stacked heavily in Moi's favor. To begin with, the constitution requires a president to get at least a quarter of the vote in five of the country's eight districts. This has diminished the power of heavily populated regions where Moi enjoys less support, which would have a better chance of electing an opponent in a simple popular vote.

Moi's party also controls all the television and radio stations in a country where few people outside the capital read newspapers. Moreover, Moi enjoys an enormous financial advantage over opposition groups because he can tap state resources for his campaign.

Local administrators and police chiefs in Kenya are all governing party members who owe their livelihoods to patronage, opposition leaders say. They have been known to use archaic public-order laws to harass opposition politicians and keep them from holding rallies, especially in rural areas, where the majority of people live.

"How can the elections be said to be free and fair if the opposition can't reach the masses in the countryside?" asked Paul Muite, an opposition member of Parliament.

Beyond these advantages, Moi has resorted to some cruder political maneuvers. For 15 months, his government has refused to register a new opposition party, Safina, led by Richard Leakey, an anthropologist. The police have broken up Safina meetings and assaulted members.

Moi has also insisted on issuing new identity cards to every citizen before next year and has said the old cards will not be honored at the polls. So far, most of the new cards have been issued to people in his political strongholds.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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