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Kenyan Opposition Calls for New Elections

The group that organized the "no" campaign in Kenya's recent constitutional referendum Thursday called on President Mwai Kibaki to dissolve parliament and call new elections after he sacked his entire cabinet.

The "no" group includes seven former ministers who, until Wednesday evening, were members of Kenya's cabinet.

Mr. Kibaki dismissed them and the rest of his cabinet Wednesday, saying the defeat of the new constitution means Kenyans lost confidence in their government. He said he would appoint a new cabinet within two weeks.

The former ministers and other opposition officials told reporters Thursday many members of parliament were manipulated into supporting the defeated constitution, and have therefore lost their credibility.

Former public service minister William Ole Ntimama tells VOA the majority of Kenyans considered the draft constitution to be a government project, and by voting "no" in the referendum they also said "no" to the government.

"We think the mandate that was given by the people of Kenya, especially winning 57 percent of the referendum vote, is a clear indication that they have no confidence with the government or even with the president," he explained. " So what we are suggesting is that we go for the general election, then the people of Kenya elect a legitimate government that is going to have their support and their mandate like they have given us in this referendum."

Many Kenyans are upset that, contrary to the law, the parliament significantly amended an earlier version of the document drawn up by a wide cross-section of the society over a two-year period and seen as reflecting the will of the people.

The amended version of the constitution backed by President Kibaki was defeated in eight out of nine provinces in what many analysts see as a humiliating blow to the president.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua accuses the leaders of the "no" vote in the constitutional referendum of being power hungry, and says Mr. Kibaki has not even considered dissolving the parliament.

"And so, dissolving of parliament, whatever steps, that's the prerogative of the president," he noted. "But this president has not talked about dissolving parliament, he's talked about reorganizing his government."

A political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Musambayi Katumanga, tells VOA that Mr. Kibaki staked his own political leadership on the outcome of the referendum.

"By the time the votes were being cast, they were not being cast on the basis of what the referendum was - the pros and cons of the document itself," he said. "They were more about trying to defend the presidency. The president himself seemed to have pointed to that kind of direction, to say, well, this is my government and this document belongs to this particular government."

But he says in today's political turmoil, this is not a good time for Kenya to hold a general election. Regular elections are scheduled for 2007.