Kenyans have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution designed to curb the president's sweeping powers and entrench citizens' basic rights.
With more than two-thirds of the ballots counted from yesterday's referendum, 69% of voters had approved the legislation, according to provisional results, guaranteeing victory for the yes campaign. Opponents of the new laws conceded defeat.
The poll was seen as a test of Kenya's progress since late 2007, when a descended into ethnic violence that cost more than 1,300 lives. This time voting passed off peacefully around the country, amid huge security. The vote tally, aided by a new electronic system, appears to have been orderly and largely transparent.
The campaign for new laws to replace colonial-era legislation was led by President Mwai Kibaki and his challenger three years ago, and probable successor, the prime minister, Raila Odinga.
"The historic journey that we begun 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end," Kibaki said this evening. "Let us all join hands together as we begin the process of national renewal under the new constitution."
The yes vote was ahead in seven of the country's eight provinces. The exception was Rift Valley, home to the former president Daniel arap Moi and cabinet minister William Ruto, who jointly headed the no campaign. They argued that provisions in the constitution on land rights, intended to address historical injustices, could disadvantage some poor people.
"[The] majority had their way, we had our say," said Ruto, admitting defeat. "Now that Kenyans have endorsed that we pass, we are now proposing immediate consultations. We want to be part of taking to the future."
Church leaders also opposed the proposed constitution, complaining about provisions on abortion and Muslim courts.
The new laws are intended to end the era of highly concentrated political power that has encouraged ethnic tensions and corruption since independence in 1963.
They will limit the president's powers after a coalition deal ends in 2012, making him or her impeachable. The cabinet will be halved, with all the ministers drawn from outside parliament for the first time.
Constituents will be able to recall their MPs and some powers will be devolved to regional authorities, which should assist marginalised areas such as northern Kenya. The discredited judiciary will be substantially reformed and women's rights and civil liberties will be advanced.
Some of the changes are likely to be difficult to implement, particularly the issue of land reform. Kenya's wealthiest and most powerful political dynasties, such as the Mois and Kenyattas, own huge tracts of dubiously acquired land.
The yes win was welcomed by business and civil society groups, which proclaimed it as a victory for the Kenyan people.
"If accompanied by strong follow-up action, the new constitution will improve Kenya's prospects for democracy, justice and respect for human rights," said Njonjo Mue, head of the Kenya chapter of the . "But this is just one step in the long journey towards Kenya's rebirth. It will take vigilance and the participation of all the Kenyan people to help make these promised changes meaningful."