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EU Happy With Kenya's Preparation for Referendum

With just one week until Kenyans head to the polls to accept or reject a new constitution, the European Union delegation to Nairobi says they are pleased with the country's preparations for the crucial vote.

Diplomats from the European Union met Monday with members of Kenya's Interim Independent Electoral Commission to discuss Kenya's readiness for the long-awaited constitutional referendum on August 4. They discussed logistical preparation and the civic education program to inform citizens about the proposed constitution on the ballot.

The head of the EU Delegation to Kenya, Ambassador Eric van der Linden, praised the commission and the civil society for its efforts.

Van der Linden told reporters he was pleased with the transparency of the process and applauded the positive role played by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the public debate.

"We also welcome, perhaps, a more moderate tone in the referendum debate. Because at the end of the day, everybody starts realizing at the political level that when they wake up on the 5th, they are still in the same Kenya; they still will have to work together and to continue the reform process," van der Linden said. "We hope that the Kenyans will use their democratic right and will turn out in big numbers to vote on the 4th of August. It is the future of your country."

The delegation also discussed the role to be played by international community before and after the vote.

Interim Independent Electoral Commission Chairman Issack Hassan assured the delegation the August 4 referendum would be free, fair and transparent. The chairman told reporters that representatives of the European Union had been invited to observe the vote tallying at the Bomas of Kenya cultural center in Nairobi.

Hassan called for Kenyans to vote and help ensure a smooth process.

"We are urging all Kenyans to make sure that we have a peaceful referendum, that people come out in large numbers. Fourth of August is a big day for the country. We want them to come out and vote in large numbers because the voter turnout is very crucial to this exercise," Hassan said.

The chairman revealed the commission has asked President Kibaki to declare August 4 a national holiday to ensure high turnout at the polls. While Mr. Kibaki has not yet responded to the request, Hassan expressed confidence a holiday would be declared.

Whatever the result next Wednesday, the referendum will likely define the legacy of the Government of National Unity. The coalition was formed in a peace agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, after the disputed presidential election in December of 2007.

Accusations of vote rigging made by both politicians set off two months of ethnic violence across Kenya. The post-election fighting killed more than 1,000 people and displaced some 300,000.

The referendum process is a part of the peace agreement which ended the violence. Recent polls show that more than 60 percent of Kenyans support the draft. If the document is passed next week, it could end a 20-year wait for a new constitution.