Ongeza mzigo: Is referendum push really about Wanjiku?

President Uhuru Kenyatta (Middle),William Ruto (Left) and Raila Odinga [Photo: DPPS]

Deputy President Dr William Ruto reignited debate on whether the country should go to a referendum or not during an appearance at Chatham House in London last week.

Ruto suggested that we reintroduce Official Opposition in Parliament to accommodate presidential election losers.

The DP is opposed to proposals to expand the National Executive to create the position of Prime Minister and two deputies (first fronted by ODM leader Raila Odinga but now in Jubilee) as part of the push to address the winner-takes-all scenario which has been the bane of Kenya’s elections since the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s, save for the forced ‘nusu mkate government’ in  2008-2013.

Ruto, who had been invited by the Royal Institute of International Studies to reflect on the challenges of managing change in a diverse country, and the outlook ahead for both Kenya and the wider region, said an expanded Executive will not address the question of inclusivity as the seats on offer will still go to the winning team.

“I have heard suggestions that the National Executive should be expanded to accommodate a Prime Minister as well as two deputies as a means of addressing the winner take all challenge. This suggestion has two problems; it does not solve the problem which is that we need a functional, constitutional official Opposition and the positions, if created would still be taken by the winning party,” the DP told the gathering.

He instead suggested that the person who garners the second most votes are a presidential election should become the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament deputised by the running mate. The same should be replicated at the county assemblies.

On the other hand, the Deputy President and Deputy Governor should lead government affairs in the respective houses while Cabinet secretaries will become ex-officio MPs.

However, how this will work under a presidential system in which Parliament is independent of the executive was not addressed.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (Middle),William Ruto (Left) and Raila Odinga [Photo: DPPS]

At the same time, what the DP did not acknowledge is his fear and that of his team that proposed amendments to reconfigure the National Executive are seen as a plot to jolt his 2022 presidential ambitions, which he and his allies see as the end game of the ‘Handshake’ deal.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said as much, telling residents of Kisumu that there is need to rethink how to ensure every Kenyan feels part of the government instead of the winning party running away with the entire cake leaving those who did not support them with empty plates.

Even as the debate rages on, questions are being raised as to whether it is not all a question of the big boys strategising over how to share the spoils of their never-ending power wars without regard as to whether it would translate to better lives to Wanjiku.

“There is nothing for Wanjiku. It is the big guns talking among themselves,” says political analyst Prof Macharia Munene.

Remarks recently attributed to Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka to the effect that the constitution should be amended to extend President Uhuru’s stay in office point to interesting times ahead for the country.

Though he has since said he was misquoted, others, such as Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli and former Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe, have expressed the view that the President is “too young to retire” and a way should be found to accommodate him. There have been suggestions that he assumes the role of PM in the envisaged dispensation.

However, according to Prof Munene, who teaches history and international relations at USIU in Nairobi, it would take time before the debate crystallises to pave way for a decision on whether or not a referendum should be held to determine how the country should proceed.

He points out that while the top politicians are angling to create positions for themselves, there are others who are keen to see the current structure trimmed to reduce the size of representation which is weighing down on the ordinary wananchi who have to bear a bloated wage bill.

“At the moment, it is a discussion among the big guys. And they have not yet agreed on anything. So, it will take some time before we talk of a referendum. There are those who are saying Ongeza Mzigo and there are those who are saying Punguza Mzigo. They are also yet to take Kenyans on board,” he said.

That Ruto chose an international forum to air his views is also being seen as tactical.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga [Photo: Boniface Okendo]

At home, President Uhuru has indirectly been on his case for prioritizing campaigns for 2022 over his push to implement the Big Four Agenda, which will define his legacy alongside the war on corruption and uniting the country with Raila’s help.

But in doing so, Ruto and his allies see a plot to disorient him even as manoeuvres to block his candidature continue in earnest both overtly and covertly. His allies cite the heightened anti-graft war, which allegedly targets his associates, as a case in point.

The DP, however, also raised the question of whether the country has resources for a national census, a boundary review and a referendum as well as a general election in 2022.

But ODM leaders have accused him of looking for excuses to scuttle any move to scuttle amendments to the Constitution before the next polls.

ODM National Chairman John Mbadi and National Treasurer Timothy Bosire also said it was premature to talk about a referendum at this time in point.