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Constitutional Referendum Widens Cracks in Kenya's Government


An upcoming referendum on Kenya's new constitution is deepening rifts within the country's already troubled ruling coalition.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki has urged the 12 million voters to support the proposed constitution in a November 21 referendum.

Divisions over the new draft constitution have shaken the country's coalition government and polarized this East African nation.

Opposition party leaders and even members of President Kibaki's own coalition government have vowed to defeat the constitution, which they say gives the president too much power.

President Kibaki and his coalition won the 2002 elections largely on a platform to amend the constitution and dilute the powers of the president.

But President Kibaki has reneged on that pledge, says Anyang Nyong'o, Kenya's minister for planning and development.

"The whole idea of the constitutional conference was to make clear the separation of powers in the system of government," said Anyang Nyong'o. "This constitution has actually worsened this whole situation. It is damaging the government already because we are not delivering what we promised the people to deliver, not just in the next election, but now."

When Kenya voters go to the polls November 21, they will have a clear choice: a banana for yes on the new constitution, an orange for no. Many women's groups support the draft because it enshrines more rights for women and children. Church groups oppose it because it authorizes Islamic courts in predominantly Muslim parts of the country. Other provisions, the church groups say, could lead the way to gay marriage and abortion.

Still, the initial motive for revising the country's constitution was to curb the overwhelming powers of the president. Mr. Kibaki's predecessor, President Daniel Arap Moi, had ruled the country for 24 years with an iron hand and a corrupt cabinet.

An earlier draft of the constitution provided for a division of powers between a prime minister, president and local authorities. The current draft calls for a figurehead prime minister serving at the pleasure of the president. The adoption of the later draft last July led to violent protests in the streets of Nairobi.

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