Some 12.5 million Kenyans are going to the polls on Wednesday to decide whether or not to adopt a new constitution.
If more than 50 per cent of the voters endorse the draft, then it will mean radical changes to the way the country is governed. A new chamber of Parliament will be created, for example, and government devolved to counties.
A vote against the draft, on the other hand, will see the process sent back to Parliament for a fresh start.
Voting will start at 6am at 27,000 polling stations in all 210 constituencies and end at 5pm.
The Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) will be conducting its first national poll and a lot is riding on it.
Its predecessor, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, was dissolved after the disastrous 2007 poll that ended with a disputed result and widespread violence.
On Tuesday, leaders were united in calling for unity and peace during and after the vote.
The only blight on an otherwise positive day was the decision by the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign to skip a joint press conference with the ‘Yes’ secretariat which intended to present a united face to the country. The ‘No’ leaders said they planned their own press conference with the churches.
President Kibaki led calls for peace during the vote and after the referendum.
“We vote for a future of hope, progress and stability. I appeal to Kenyans to turn out and cast their votes in large numbers. Let us do so peacefully,” he said.
In a televised address to the nation, the President described the vote as a defining moment in Kenya’s history.
“After a consultative and comprehensive constitution review process, we have now come to a defining moment in our nation’s history,” the President said.
He said the constitution is about the Kenyan nation, its people and their hopes and aspirations.
“God placed us in a beautiful country, Kenya. Let us remain united and focused on the work ahead. As we recite from our National Anthem “may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty.” Let us all play our role in creating a great Kenyan nation, at peace with itself and respected among the greater family of nations.”
He said security had been stepped up in all parts of the country.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga called on Kenyans to prove the world wrong by voting in a peaceful, transparent and fair system.
Mr Odinga said in a statement: “Since the 2007 election that ended in chaos, the world has entertained a belief that Kenyans cannot hold peaceful, free and fair polls.”
He added: “I disagree very strongly. I believe Kenyans can hold elections that are free of ugly incidents, fair and transparent.
“Let us prove to the world and to ourselves that Kenya should and can be one nation, never divisible by religion, tribe, political party, race or any of the myriad issues that are bound to come up from time to time.
“Let us make a statement once and for all that we are not just a collection of tribes, clans, religious groups or races. Let us prove that we, the people of Kenya, can still stand up and make hard decisions for ourselves peacefully, in a free and fair contest.”
Mr Odinga called for patience and tolerance. “Let us be gracious and kind to fellow citizens,” the PM said.
He added: “As we cast the ballot in this landmark process, let us remember that casting the ballot is but only part of the journey. There is still quite a distance to cover. The road ahead will be long, rough and sometimes steep.”
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka who was in his Mwingi home turf urged Kenyans to vote peacefully, accept the results and join hands in the work of remaking the country in the post referendum era.
“I call on my fellow Kenyans wherever they are to be very proud that we belong to a nation that is emerging very strong after this referendum,” he said adding that this is the moment that heralds the possibility of a rebirth of the Kenyan Nation.
Higher Education minister William Ruto, who is the de facto leader of the ‘No’ campaign, urged Kenyans to vote in a peaceful manner to ensure the stability of the country.
Mr Ruto, who will vote at Kosachei Primary School in Eldoret North, urged voters to resist manipulation and cast their ballots with a clear conscience.
“We call upon Kenyans to come out in large numbers and vote in a peaceful manner.
“They should resist manipulation and influence and vote with their conscience for motherland,” he said.
Retired President Moi said “history has taught us that the greatest failures of mankind have most always stemmed from good intentions but wrong judgment and execution.
“As we go to the polls, I wish every Kenyan well, and a future secured by truth, openness and our everlasting bond as citizens of a proud, peaceful and prosperous nation.”
He added: “Let us all appreciate the fact that constitution-making is not about winning and losing; it is about the future of the entire people of this country.”