Kenyan president fires cabinet

NAIROBI - Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has sacked his government a day after suffering the worst defeat of his presidency when voters rejected a new constitution.

Kibaki's championing of the proposed charter deeply split his ruling coalition, and opponents in and out of his government helped turn Monday's historic constitutional poll into a referendum on his nearly three years in power.

Many opponents to the charter had said it failed to curb the presidency's vast powers under the current constitution, which Kibaki demonstrated forcefully on Wednesday.

"I have sacked all ministers and assistant ministers with immediate effect. I will announce a new government lineup before the end of two weeks," Kibaki said in a televised address.

Political analysts said the move was uncharacteristically bold for Kibaki, often seen as slow to act in the face of public outcry.

"I think he wants to cure the rift that has been in his cabinet. It is also calculated to steal the thunder from the Orange win so that they do not gloat over it," said Ahmednasir Abdullahi, a political analyst and former head of the Law Society of Kenya.

The Orange camp, so named for the symbol its "No" position had on the ballot, won 57 per cent of the 6 million votes cast on Monday against Kibaki's Banana, or "Yes", team.

The vitriolic and sporadically violent referendum campaign, in which at least eight people were killed, called into question the future of Kibaki's ruling coalition.

It also reawakened tribalism, with many viewing Kibaki's proposed charter as favoring the interests his Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest, at the expense of all others.

"Following the results of the referendum, it has become necessary for me, as the president of the republic, to reorganize my government to make it more cohesive and better able to serve the people of Kenya," Kibaki said.

Some on the "No" team suggested the current vacuum in the vice presidency could leave the country exposed should anything happen to the 74-year-old Kibaki. Even when parliament is dissolved ahead of any election, the cabinet remains in force.

POLITICAL LIABILITIES

The "No" camp wanted to replace Kenya's colonial-era constitution, but said the version Kibaki backed was a betrayal of an earlier, more inclusive version drawn up with wide public input -- the kind he promised to deliver at his 2002 election.

Analysts say many Kenyans also voted against Kibaki because of the perception that he failed to deliver on promises to deliver more jobs and end graft, which was seen as tolerated -- and flourishing -- within his administration.

"My guess is that this gives him an opportunity to not only target the Orange guys but also those guys in his side who have become a political liability. It is killing two birds with one stone," Abdullahi told Reuters.

Many in the dissolved cabinet said they had expected some kind of shakeup, but not a wholesale dissolution.

"The move was long overdue given the division in the cabinet. The cabinet was not functioning as a team. The principle of collective responsibility should be observed all the time," Newton Kulundu, a "Yes" backer who had been labor minister, told Reuters.

- REUTERS

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