Kenya ‘yes’ campaigners celebrate referendum victory

Supporters of a new Kenyan constitution have declared victory in the country’s referendum.
With most votes counted, 70% have backed the new constitution. Leaders of the “no” campaign have admitted defeat.

President Mwai Kibaki, who backed the “yes” campaign, told crowds celebrating in Nairobi that he was “happy to welcome” the provisional result.

The constitution will give citizens a new bill of rights and pave the way for land reform.

It will also severely curtail the powers of the president.

But as he addressed a crowd of several hundred people who were celebrating in central Nairobi, Mr Kibaki hailed the “historic” result.
‘Truly reborn’

“Fellow Kenyans, we are happy to welcome the provisional results of the referendum. The historic journey that we begun over twenty years ago is now coming to a happy end,” said the president.

“I assume our brothers and sisters who voted against the proposed constitution that their voice have been heard. Let us all join hands together as we begin the process of national renewal and a renewed constitution.”
Controversial constitution
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* Reduces president’s powers
* Devolves power to regions
* Creates commission to manage public land
* Creates senate
* Recognises Kadhi (Muslim) courts

* In pictures: Kenyan views
* Q&A: Kenya’s constitution referendum
* Fruity colours battle for Kenyan vote

Voting appears to have passed off peacefully around the country, with none of the violence that marred the election in December 2007.

The referendum was part of a deal to bring that conflict, in which more than 1,000 people died, to an end.

Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, head of the “yes” campaign, said the people of Kenya had spoken with a “thunderous voice”.

“Saying that we have won is truly an understatement. Kenya has been truly reborn. This is the rebirth of a second Republic of Kenya,” he said.

With most of the ballots counted, more than four million voters were in favour of the new charter, with about 2.1 million rejecting the reforms.

“[The] majority had their way, we had our say,” said William Ruto, Kenya’s higher education minister and a leader of the “no” campaign, as he admitted defeat.

“We are now proposing immediate consultations.”

The result of the referendum and the absence of violence show an unprecedented enthusiasm for the radical changes the constitution is proposing, says the BBC’s Peter Greste in Kenya.
Electoral officials sorting ballots, Eldoret town, Kenya, August 4, 2010. There were more than 27,600 polling stations open for the referendum

The fact the Rift Valley – Mr Ruto’s political heartland – polled two to one against presents a serious challenge to national unity, but despite the difficulties, this remains a historic moment for Kenya, adds our correspondent.

Rift Valley province saw the worst of the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

Mr Ruto, who has ambitions to run for president in the 2012 elections, had opposed clauses about abortion and land reform.

But those in favour of the document say that for the first time it introduces a sensible approach to land reform by stating that land acquired illegally can be repossessed.

Supporters of the new constitution include Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who stood against President Kibaki in 2007.

More than 27,600 polling stations opened across the country, where on Wednesday many people had queued since sunrise to cast their votes.

The Standard newspaper said the peaceful voting process marked “a new dawn” for Kenya.

“The traditional mayhem that has preceded and accompanied successive general elections was a distant memory buried by the orderly queues yesterday,” the paper commented.

Kenyans now face an intensive legislative process to implement the reforms approved by the referendum.