With the streets of this capital eerily quiet, Kenyans voted peacefully Monday on a new draft constitution after a turbulent month of campaigning divided East Africa's largest nation and split political leaders along tribal lines.
Tens of thousands of Kenyans, some with babies on their backs, stood in long but orderly lines at voting stations. There were few reports of violence, after a stormy campaign in which nine people were killed during rallies by opponents of the constitutional changes.
President Mwai Kibaki is leading the "Yes" campaign, symbolized by a banana on the ballot for illiterate voters. The draft constitution would revamp Kenya's colonial-era document, which has not been updated since 1963. It would give women the right to inherit land, along with other reforms, but it would also strengthen the powers of the president, including control over the prime minister.
Most businesses were closed Monday, and newspaper editorials called for calm. There were 60,000 security personnel, including rangers from the Kenyan Wildlife Service, posted throughout the country to discourage protests and rioting.
[The draft constitution appeared to have been voted down, according to early returns Tuesday, but final results were not expected until Wednesday.]
A member of the national electoral commission said there were reports of voters being bribed, but international observers said the 19,000 polling stations remained calm.
Seven of Kibaki's cabinet ministers have backed the "No" campaign, symbolized on the ballot by an orange. One leading opponent of the draft is Raila Odinga, the roads minister, who was promised the post of prime minister during Kibaki's 2002 campaign.
Kibaki and Odinga were close allies when they formed a coalition that defeated the presidential candidate put forward by Daniel arap Moi, the autocratic ruler who clung to power for 21 years.
Odinga and his allies argue that Kenyans do not want another all-powerful executive. Kibaki's camp argues that the prime minister is not elected and therefore should be governed by the president.
A tug of war between the two personalities has overwhelmed other, more ideological issues in the constitution. The dispute also has an element of tribal rivalry, since Kibaki hails from the country's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and Odinga is a member of the second largest, the Luo.
Until recently, tribal tensions had decreased under Kibaki's rule. But the constitutional campaign revived them, and some pre-vote rallies were marred by tribal insults and stereotypes. Economic competition between the Kikuyu and Luo underlies some of the ill will.
In a television address Sunday night, Kibaki told Kenyans, "Let us reject violence and selfishness which could destroy our country's unity," urging them to vote yes. Odinga's aides said they were outraged that the president had used his platform to promote one side after official rallies had ended. They vowed to press the country's electoral commission to investigate.
At Olympic Primary School, a voting center in the vast slum of Kiberia, most people interviewed said they were voting no because they were frustrated over the lack of promised economic reforms and fearful of having another dictatorship.
Thomas Owuor, 33, a Luo taxi driver with an orange on his dashboard, said he voted no because a "president in Africa will never resign." Although he said he liked the new bill of rights in the draft constitution, he predicted that its expanded presidential powers would "turn Kibaki into another Big Man. We already had one of those, and we voted him away," Owuor said.
Some women in line said they were voting no because they were told by anti-constitution campaigners that the new charter supported abortion. In fact, it states that abortion is illegal "unless permitted by parliament."
Other voters said they just prayed that the country would stay peaceful once the results were announced. Recent political unrest across East Africa, mostly related to elections, has led to clashes with police and dozens of deaths from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Zanzibar in Tanzania.
"Let's just learn from our neighbors and our own history and vote with care," said Kennedy Odhiambo, 25, a waiter.