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Why majority say 'Yes' to Kenya draft law

Saturday April 24 2010

By MURITHI MUTIGA

The nation’s decades-long search for a new constitution could be approaching a successful conclusion after the first poll since the draft was approved by Parliament showed a solid majority backing the proposed document.

About two-thirds of the electorate would vote “Yes” if the referendum were held today, with only 17 per cent of voters backing the “No” campaign. The Synovate poll found that an overwhelming desire for a new body of laws to govern them is behind the decisive support the “Yes” campaign enjoys.

Although 68 per cent of eligible voters say there are aspects of the draft they do not like, 64 per cent of all the respondents to the poll said they will still vote to enact a new law. This is partly explained by the fact that nearly all the respondents said the nation needs a new body of laws.

Asked the question how important it is for the nation to have a new constitution, 91 per cent said it is “absolutely or quite” important. Only three per cent thought it is “not important” with four per cent of respondents classifying the need for a new constitution as “somewhat important”.

The newly released poll is likely to give momentum to the “Yes” campaign, which has been endorsed by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. “Although we are still in the early stages, it is clear the ‘No’ campaign has an uphill task especially considering the number of people who say there is a need for a new constitution. It is still not clear what resources the ‘No’ team will mobilise and how far they are willing to go to support their cause,” said Dr Tom Wolf, a consultant with Synovate.

The percentage of voters who say they will vote “Yes” is almost exactly the same as the figure of those who voted for the Narc alliance in the 2002 General Election, the last time when Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga campaigned side-by-side.

In that year’s presidential election, Mr Kibaki received 62.2 per cent of the vote with Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta taking 31.3 per cent. In the latest poll, the strongest support for the “Yes” campaign is found in Nyanza (74 per cent) and Western Province (70 per cent).

Sixty six per cent of eligible voters in Nairobi would vote “Yes,” marginally higher than Coast province where support for the draft stands at 65 per cent. Sixty one per cent of eligible voters in Central Province back the proposed law, with 58 per cent of voters in Eastern Province taking a similar stand.

The lowest levels of support for the draft are found in Rift Valley (57 per cent) and North Eastern (53 per cent), although more than half of eligible voters in all the provinces would vote “Yes” if the referendum were held today. The referendum on the proposed constitution is expected by August 6.

Speaking on Saturday, Synovate Managing Director George Waititu said there appeared to be an overwhelming appetite for a new set of laws to govern the country but added that the period set aside for civic education would be crucial.

“The fact that nine out of 10 of respondents said they want a new constitution vindicates the notion that there is support for an overhaul of the laws that govern the nation. But the results also show a high level of tolerance, with 68 per cent saying there are aspects of the draft they do not like but a majority saying they will still support the draft,” he said.

The pollsters interviewed 2,003 adults spread across the country between Wednesday and Friday. The poll comes at a time when a group of politicians led by Higher Education minister William Ruto have been rooting for rejection of the draft unless it is amended before the referendum.

President Kibaki and Mr Odinga have been resolute in their backing of the new law while a third group of politicians revolving around Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Finance minister Kenyatta have taken a variety of positions. Mr Musyoka has called for consensus-building before voters go to the polls.

After initially saying he would not campaign for either side, Mr Kenyatta has proposed that Kenyans be offered a multi-choice referendum in which they vote for the proposed constitution and also take a separate vote on contentious issues.

The proponents of the “No” campaign might want to win over the 19 per cent of eligible voters who say they are yet to take a stand on the draft to boost the numbers in their camp. Yesterday, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo said he was targeting 80 per cent-plus approval for the draft and pleaded with those who are undecided to support the new law.

The latest poll shows a large percentage of those who are yet to take a position on the proposed law say they have not decided because they are yet to receive adequate information on the proposed law. The highest levels of awareness are in Nairobi, which is the only province where the number of those who say they are aware of the contents of the draft (52 per cent) outstrips those who say they do not know much about it (48 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, the levels of awareness are lowest in North Eastern and Coast provinces, two regions that have suffered marginalisation since independence and which might be beneficiaries of a national equalisation fund to be set up if the draft is passed.

The result of the first poll since the draft was passed by Parliament indicates that unless the “No” campaign dramatically scales up its efforts, the referendum in August might not be very closely contested. At 64 per cent, the “Yes” team enjoys a 47-point advantage over the “No” rivals. This is a much wider gap than that recorded in the 2005 referendum, when the “Yes” team garnered 41 per cent of the vote and the “No” team emerged triumphant with 58 per cent.