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Kenyans Vote on Constitutional Changes

  • Josiah Obat

Kenyans turned out Monday to vote on whether to approve a proposed new constitution. The vote is unprecedented in the country's history.

At Olympic Primary School in Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum, thousands of voters stood in long, winding lines under a hot sun Monday, waiting cast their votes in a historic referendum on the proposed constitution.

Local official Kefa Otieno yelled out instructions as people went to the appropriate line.

Voters started streaming into polling stations countrywide as early as 5:30 a.m. to decide the fate of the draft document.

Lynn Yaya was at the Olympic polling station in Kibera, an area that has shown strong support for the no vote, a campaign led by roads minister Raila Odinga and six other cabinet ministers.

"From what I've seen this morning its going very well," she said. "What I liked about where I polled the ladies were given first preference. So far from what I've seen I haven't seen any irregularities. I see things are going very smoothly, and I hope it continues like that."

However, some people were not as lucky as Ms. Yaya and complained that they were not able to vote.

Kesia Mburu was turned away because she was registered twice.

"I'm not happy because I wanted to vote for the referendum. But now I'm unfortunate, but I will still register fresh. I'm not happy," she said. "I wanted to participate for my right."

Paul Mutua, an electoral official at Kongoni Primary School in Nairobi, explains why Ms. Mburu was turned away from this particular polling station.

"She had double registered within the same constituency, in our case, cases of double registration they are simply expunged out of the computer print out," he said.

Fears that campaign violence over replacing the constitution would spill over into voting have proven largely unfounded, although least eight people were killed in the lead up to the vote in the coastal city of Mombasa and in the western city of Kisumu.

Some 11 million Kenyans are eligible to vote, but some areas were reported to be registering low voter turnout. This is the first time Kenyans are voting in a referendum on the constitution.

The current constitution dates back to Kenya's independence from British colonial rule 42 years ago.

The draft being voted on is a modified version of an earlier document that representatives from all across the country put together after a two-year process. Dubbed the Bomas draft, parliament proceeded to amend the document to its present form.

Opponents, including opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta, argue that the draft being voted on is a major departure from the Bomas draft. Proponents, headed by President Mwai Kibaki, say this draft is a true reflection of what Kenyans want.

Polling stations close at 5 p.m. local time to give way to vote counting.

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