Analysis: Kenya's new constitution to take 5 years, 49 new laws to be passed

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The passage of Kenya's new constitution ends a decades-long struggle to cut down the massive powers of the presidency, although it now will take up to five years to implement all the changes approved in this week's referendum.

New institutions such as a Supreme Court and a Senate must now be formed. The country's judiciary is to face a vetting process aimed at ridding it of corrupt or incompetent judges. And Parliament will have to pass 49 new laws under a timetable.

"Kenyans can't just sit back and relax. We have to pay attention now to the criteria and process of appointing people to the commission that is responsible for implementation. That is going to be the first big political battle in terms of interests," said Muthoni Wanyeki, the executive director of the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Kenya was in a similar place eight years ago. At the time, Mwai Kibaki won a landslide presidential victory that ended the 39-year rule of the country's independence party. His massive mandate raised expectations that his administration would reverse low economic growth, poor government services and endemic corruption.

Kenyans in 2002 were full of enthusiasm and expectations, and Kibaki was seen as the man to deliver on the promise of a new beginning, said policy analyst Mutuma Ruteere.

Fees were abolished for government-run primary schools, and enlistment soared. Half the country's judges were fired after investigations into corruption, restoring faith in what was a discredited institution. State-owned companies started running more efficiently, expanding and declaring profits.

But during Kibaki's second year as president, in 2004, his administration became implicated in a multimillion-dollar security contracts scandal. Disillusionment set in. As Kibaki dithered on taking action against Cabinet ministers implicated in the scandal, public support for his administration fell. For this and other reasons, when Kibaki sought re-election in 2007 he was no longer the shoo-in he had been five years earlier.

One of the key political interests that will determine how the new constitution is implemented is the relationship between Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. They have had a warm-cold relationship since signing a power-sharing deal in February 2008 to end political violence that followed the disputed December 2007 presidential poll and left more than 1,000 people dead.

Their power-sharing deal committed them to implementing an ambitious reform program that included the referendum vote on a new constitution. During the campaigns, Kibaki and Odinga enthusiastically supported the new constitution and their relationship improved.

Early in the campaigns Odinga was clearly more assertive in rallying Kenyans to back the draft charter. But after doctors ordered him to rest following head surgery, Kibaki picked up the slack and became an enthusiastic leader.

Ruteere says the energy and enthusiasm displayed during those campaigns by Kibaki, who is portrayed by Kenyan editorial cartoonists as a sleeping president, shows Kibaki wants the new constitution to define his legacy. His second term ends in 2012 and he is barred from seeking re-election.

"I think he is aware of the need to leave a better legacy," says Ruteere, the director of the Nairobi-based Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies.

"Part of me thinks that he worries about being remembered as the president who presided over the 2007-2008 violence."

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom Maliti has been reporting in East Africa for The Associated Press since 2001.