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Kenya's New Draft Constitution Gets Mixed Review


Critics of Kenya's new draft constitution say the document, published by the attorney general Tuesday, reneges on President Mwai Kibaki's promise to curtail presidential powers.

President Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 election largely on a platform in favor of creating a strong prime minister post to counterbalance the sweeping powers of the president.

But the 197-page draft constitution published Tuesday proposes a prime minister who is hired and fired by the president and takes directions from the head of state.

Already, critics and President Kibaki's political opponents have filed a legal challenge to the national referendum to adopt the constitution. The referendum is to take place in November.

Wanyiri Kihoro, an attorney and a former member of Kenya's parliament, says the draft gives the president too much power.

"The former President Moi for a long period from 1982 had abused his powers," he said. "When the country went multi-party in 1990, the new demand was that the powers of the presidency should be [rationed], and that has been the demand for the last 15 years. It looks like what is now being proposed is not dealing with that very important aspect."

Revisions to the draft constitution, which supposedly weakened the powers of the prime minister, sparked three days of riots in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in July. One protester died and several were injured in the unrest.

But the draft constitution has supporters as well, and they are urging Kenyans to read it carefully before making any judgments.

Muthui Kariuki, a former aide to President Kibaki, is among the supporters of the proposed constitution.

"It is quite balanced. We have now a prime minister and two deputy prime ministers," he said. "We have a vice president. We have a prime ministership that we have not had there in the past. And I believe parliament is much, much more in control than it was before when we had the old constitution. I believe this constitution is tailor-made for the average Kenyan."

Many here expect a showdown between Kenya's ruling Rainbow Coalition party and the opposition Kenya African National Union, which has vowed to campaign for the draft's rejection.

This is the first overhaul of Kenya's constitution since independence from Britain in 1963.