Kenya rejects constitution

November 23, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Although long under the thumb of their rulers, Kenyan voters rebelled against their president in election results released yesterday, handing him a stinging defeat in a referendum on revamping the constitution.

President Mwai Kibaki had staked his reputation on the plebiscite held Monday, and the rejection of it by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent was widely seen as a vote of no confidence in his three-year-old administration.

"The people have triumphed," said Uhuru Kenyatta, an opposition leader who had campaigned against Kibaki's proposal. "The future of the country lies not in an imperial presidency but in accountable leadership."

Thousands of people took to the streets in celebration after the country's Electoral Commission announced the results - 2.5 million in favor and 3.5 million opposed - and Kibaki conceded defeat. Some said the jubilation nearly rivaled the mood when he was swept into office in December 2002 as an opposition leader promising a new Kenya.

Back then, Kibaki had pledged to reduce the powers of the presidency by rewriting the constitution, which dates from Kenya's independence from Britain in 1963. The promise had resonance with Kenyans, who have had just three presidents in four decades of self-governance and have grown tired of strongman rule.

But Kibaki put forward changes that did not go as far in curbing the powers of the chief executive as many would have liked. For one, he retreated from a pledge to create a powerful prime minister's post to dilute executive authority and to appoint Roads Minister Raila Odinga, a longtime opposition leader, to the job.

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