New Kenyan constitution likely to pass, preliminary results show; 'No' side questions tally

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Preliminary results announced Thursday showed that Kenya's new constitution is likely to pass overwhelmingly, but opponents of the new draft questioned the returns.

Preliminary results showed that about 67 percent of the nation voted for the new constitution on Wednesday, with 33 percent voting against it. The results were based on returns from 75 percent of stations sending in votes electronically.

Backers of the "No" vote said they have misgivings about the results but appealed for calm.

"We the 'No' camp earlier made certain statements and made it very clear we are not happy with happenings in certain quarters," said David Koech, a member of parliament from the Rift Valley leading the 'No' camp's team at the tallying center. "More importantly the way the results are flowing in we felt that there are issues that need to be sorted."

Ethnically charged violence left more than 1,000 people dead following the disputed 2007 presidential election. No major violence has been reported this time, but authorities deployed police around the country en masse.

Voters on Wednesday overwhelmed polling stations in some locations. The international community, and particularly the U.S., has urged Kenyans to pass the constitution, even as the draft raised emotions over land rights, abortion and Muslim family courts.

Kenya's current constitution, drawn up in the lead-up to Kenya's 1963 independence from Britain, grants the president sweeping powers.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Wednesday the Obama administration was gratified that a large number of Kenyans voted and that the vote was generally peaceful.

"This is an important step toward strengthening democratic institutions in Kenya," Crowley said.

If passed, the new constitution will dramatically cut back the president's powers by setting up an American-style system of checks and balances and paving the way for much-needed land reform. Kenyan presidents have long favored their own ethnic tribes in the distribution of resources, a tremendous source of tension here.

The referendum was one of the conditions of the power-sharing agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minster Raila Odinga that ended the 2007-08 violence. Both back the new constitution, and both appealed to Kenyans to vote peacefully.

A leader of the "no" camp, Higher Education Minister William Ruto, told AP that his side would respect the outcome. Stories about tension and violence are "the work of the prophets of doom," he said.