Kenyans voted in favour of a new constitution in a peaceful referendum that could reshape the political landscape of east Africa's largest economy, according to partial results published on Thursday.
With provisional results from about half of the country's 210 constituencies released by the electoral authority, 67 percent of Kenyans had backed the charter, making it extremely unlikely the "No" camp could catch up.
Kenya's leading newspapers were in no doubt about the outcome: "Kenya says Yes" and "Yes it is" were the headlines splashed on the front of the two main dailies -- and the "Yes" camp claimed victory late on Thursday morning.
"The gallant people of Kenya have spoken with a thunderous voice," said Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi. "To say we have won is an understatement. Kenya has been reborn.
Coming two years after allegations over vote-rigging in a presidential election ignited violence that killed 1,300 people, the referendum boosted the Kenyan shilling against the dollar and extended the Kenyan stock market's recent gains.
"Confidence was a key requirement for economic turnaround, and the peaceful passage of the vote should do a lot to underscore that," said Razia Khan, Africa economist at Standard Chartered Bank.
After years of marred elections, the charter is seen as an important step in avoiding a repeat of the post-election tribal bloodshed in early 2008 that pushed the country of about 40 million people to the brink of anarchy.
The changes put to voters on Wednesday allow for greater checks on presidential powers, more devolution to grassroots administrations and an increase in civil liberties.
The new legal framework addresses the corruption, political patronage, land-grabbing and tribalism which have plagued Kenya since it won independence from Britain in 1963.
Kenya, which borders Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, is the fourth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.
In the fertile Rift Valley, the "No" camp's stronghold and the epicentre of the violence after the last election, some said Kenyans should now unite and reject divisive politics.
"The real issue lies with our leaders. Reform is not only on paper but I doubt the leaders can unite. They protect their ill-gotten wealth by pitting communities against each other," said Tom Murgor, 55, a civil engineer and Kalenjin in Eldoret.
The fighting in the Rift Valley after the last election essentially pitted ethnic Kalenjins supporting the opposition against the Kikuyu tribe of President Mwai Kibaki.
No major incidents were reported at Kenya's 27,689 polling stations. Some 12.5 million people were registered to vote.
By 0730 GMT, the "Yes" camp had 4.2 million votes with 2.1 million against. Final results were expected later on Thursday.
To be adopted, the law requires 50 percent plus one vote of the ballot cast nationally, and at least 25 percent of the votes in five of Kenya's eight provinces.
Regional election observers said they were satisfied with the voting process, and called for calm during the count.
A small group of "No" campaigners said the vote had been rigged in favour of the "Yes" camp. They were angry at a new electronic system used to transmit votes to the national counting centre, from where they were broadcast live.
William Ruto, a cabinet minister based in the Rift Valley who led "No" campaigners angry about clauses related to land ownership, said he would accept the outcome.
Ruto has an ambition to run for president in 2012 elections.
The complaints were brushed aside by the electoral authority which said the process simply improved transparency, and had proved robust when used in two recent by-elections.
Analysts said the new electronic counting process was more open than in late 2007, when allegations that the vote was rigged in favour of Kibaki sparked the bloodletting.
The new charter was a key provision in the power-sharing deal struck between then-rivals Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to end the violence after the 2007 election. Analysts said the win would support Odinga's presidential ambitions.
Related news reports:Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Ağustos 2010, 13:44