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Kenyan President Dissolves Parliament - 2002-10-25

Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi Friday dissolved parliament, paving the way for elections. Many Kenyans are angry because one effect of the president's action is to delay, and possibly doom, plans for a new constitution, which members of parliament were to start debating Monday.

Kathurima Minoti is a lawyer with the National Convention Executive Council, which has been at the forefront of the campaign for a new constitution. He says the end of the parliament means yet another delay in efforts to create a new constitution for Kenya.

"To me, it's extremely disappointing," he said. "The effect of the dissolution of parliament is to throw the constitutional review process into limbo until such time as we have another new parliament."

Kenyans have been lobbying for a new constitution for a long time. The current document has been amended dozens of times. To many Kenyans one of its major flaws is that it gives the president too much power.

According to polls, a majority of Kenyans want a new constitution to give greater independence to the country's judiciary and more power to parliament.

The new constitution has been years in the making, around 12 years, and the debate about it has often been acrimonious. However, hopes were raised when a draft document was finally published last month. On Monday, the National Constitutional Conference, was due to start a month-long debate on the draft, after which the document would go to the parliament to be passed into law.

Members of parliament make up one-third of conference delegates. So the conference will now have to wait until a new parliament is elected. Elections are expected to take place in December but a date has yet to be specified.

For the constitution-making process to continue in 2003, the new government will also have to extend the life of the review commission, which is due to expire in January.

Mr. Minoti is worried that if the ruling KANU party wins the election, it may not extend the life of the commission. While he believes the opposition parties in Kenya favor a new constitution, he says the Moi government has only allowed the constitutional review process to go ahead as a public relations, exercise.

"I'm sure if the next president comes from the opposition, one can say with a lot of confidence the constitution review will be quite top of the agenda," he said. "I'm not sure about the other side really because you can see this is a government which has had to be pushed constantly for us to move this far. For this government constitutional reform is just a P.R. exercise. There is no serious commitment to it."

President Moi has dismissed the draft constitution as a fake written by foreigners. And the man he hopes will succeed him as president, Uhuru Kenyatta, says constitution-making should not be rushed and needs to be discussed at length. Opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki has promised to pass it into law within the first 100 days.