Kenyans back new constitution, support wanes: poll


More than half of Kenyans would vote ‘yes’ to reform the constitution in a referendum due in August but the percentage in favour of the new legal framework has fallen since April, an independent poll showed.

The new charter, which would curb sweeping presidential powers and strengthen civil liberties, is seen as the centre-piece of political reforms aimed at healing the ethnic divisions that dominate Kenyan politics.

A total of 57 percent said they would vote ‘yes’ — down by seven percentage points since April, 20 percent said they were against the draft constitution and 19 percent were still undecided, the survey by pollster Synovate showed.

Most analysts agree Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, rivals in the last vote, would be the biggest winners in the event of a ‘yes’. Kibaki would fulfill one of his earliest electoral promises and secure his legacy while Odinga, who has been unequivocal in backing the document, would get a boost ahead of the 2012 presidential poll.

Others argue, however, that approval of the new constitution could pave the way for new alliances, threatening the fragile coalition, although a ‘no’ vote is not seen precipitating the government’s collapse.
“A ‘yes’ vote could destabilise the coalition. In the event of a ‘no’ vote, the coalition will continue, the status quo will remain although perhaps they will kick out … rebel ministers,” political commentator Mutahi Ngunyi told Reuters.

Synovate said it interviewed 6000 registered voters across the country. In its last survey in April, which sampled opinion from 2000 Kenyans of voting age, 64 percent said they would vote yes.

Guarantees of a new legal framework were central to a power-sharing deal in 2008, brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan that ended weeks of violence that killed about 1300 people after a disputed poll.

But some senior politicians are spearheading a ‘no’ campaign angry at the failure to devolve power to the regions and plans to cap private land holdings.

Christian church leaders are also urging a ‘no’ vote because of a clause allowing abortions on medical grounds and the inclusion of Islamic courts dealing with divorce and inheritance.

Synovate also said its poll showed that if a snap presidential election was held immediately, Odinga would win 41 percent of the vote, far ahead of his closest rivals.

Kibaki cannot run for a third term.