“People are calling this the Second Republic, the first one being the transfer of power from colonialism to independence,” says Mwalimu Mati, director of the Mars Group Kenya, a nonprofit think tank that monitors government corruption and democratic rights. “Why this had to happen is clear. Our Constitution set up a presidential system with highly centralized powers in one man, the president. When one side stole an election, the other side had no recourse to courts, but only through violence.”
But transforming Kenya into a truly democratic society based on the rule of law will take more than just one vote, Mr. Mati adds. “Our political class is adept at counterreform. We don’t want the new system to retain all the bad habits of the past. We need to stay vigilant.”
The growing likelihood of passage of a new constitution has already had a positive effect on Kenyan markets, where investors fretted about the possible return of the violent postelection days of early 2008.
But the debate over enacting a new constitution had more than its share of controversy. Kenya’s powerful Christian church community organized to oppose the new draft under the mistaken notion that it would legalize abortion (in fact, abortion remains illegal except in rare cases where a pregnant mother’s life would be in danger if she gave birth). A mysterious bomb blast at a “no” rally in Nairobi killed six.