Battle Royale: Why referendum will be about Baba, William Ruto

DP Ruto and Former Premier Raila Odinga [Photo: Courtesy]

The current constitution as it sits on our lives needs some surgery and hence the Referendum push from those who stand to benefit the most. But Kenyans agree the dispensation has political and economic ramifications that need radical changes.

The constitution which was promulgated in 2010 was a result of the victory from the ‘Yes’ campaign championed by among others, President Mwai Kibaki and his then Prime Minister, Raila Odinga then part of the ‘Nusu Mkate’ Coalition government.

 William Ruto had then dumped the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and formed his own United Republican Party (URP) and as one in the opposition, he was in the ‘No’ campaign-against the constitution in 2010.

At the time, the DP was opposing the draft constitution on grounds that it contained contentious issues, a view shared by retired President Moi and then Information Minister Samwel Pogisho.

The Church in Kenya was also in the ‘No’ camp to have it rejected.

However, their bid failed as they only managed to galvanize support in the Rift Valley. The Yes” campaign, won the contest with 69 percent against 31 percent for the ‘No’ campaign.

Had the ‘No’ campaign succeeded, Kenyans would have gone back to the drawing board as the country would have remained with the independence constitution, which had been amended several times to, among others, consolidate presidential powers.

Other gains that came with the 2010 constitution like Devolution and an elaborate Bill of Rights would have been lost.

However, the creation of an expanded Parliament that includes the Senate and various constitutional commissions led to a sharp rise in the wage bill.

DP Ruto and Former Premier Raila Odinga hug, looking on is Presidnet Uhuru Kenyatta [Photo: PSCU]

While there is a genuine case to amend the constitution, critics warn that the value of the referendum is likely to be lost in divisive politics.

And now there is a call for another referendum. How could life have been had the ‘No’ campaign won? What bits of the ‘No’ draft can be incorporated into the current constitution and work wonders?

Among the contentious issues in the ‘No’ camp was the system of government and land. Ruto’s side held that the president still retained   lots of powers while regarding land, they held that the proposed constitution had anti-capitalist provisions.

Religious leaders also opposed the draft for enshrining Kadhis courts besides fearing it would lead to legalization of abortion, due to a provision permitting the same for maternal health reasons. Most of the country voted in support of the draft constitution with Raila’s supporters saying they did not need to read it as he had already read it on their behalf.

Raila’s contention was that only about 20 percent of the draft had issues, which could be tackled at a later stage.

Nine years later, the country is yet to revisit the supreme law to make the corrections. An attempt by the Opposition to amend the constitution in 2016 through the Okoa Kenya Initiative failed after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said some of the signatures submitted were fake.

The law requires one million signatures if a popular initiative to amend the Constitution is to succeed.

However, Raila claimed IEBC had colluded with the Jubilee administration to rig the process after Garissa Town MP and Leader of Majority,Aden Duale and Johnson Sakaja, now Nairobi Senator, divulged that ODM had submitted fake signatures even before the electoral body made the pronouncement.

DP Ruto, Raila Odinga and Presidnet Uhuru Kenyatta [Photo: DPPS]

The likelihood of the country going to a referendum has gained momentum after President Uhuru said there is need to amend the law to provide for inclusivity.

This is part of the Building Bridges Initiative which saw the President reach a truce with Raila after the 2017 hotly contested presidential election whose aftermath nearly plunged the country into a repeat of the 2007/08 post-election violence.

The team picked to look for ways of ensuring the cyclic violence that has been the bane of the country in previous years is not repeated again is set to submit its report in May.

However, the possibility of expanding the National Executive to accommodate more leaders by creating the positions of prime minister and two deputies have received strong opposition from Ruto who sees it as an attempt by Raila to sneak his way into government through another Nusu Mkate arrangement.

He instead proposes for an amendment that would see the person who comes second in a presidential election become the leader of opposition in Parliament deputized by his running mate.

“I have heard suggestion that the National Executive should be expanded to accommodate a PM 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 a gathering at Chatham House in London.

Critics warn that the value of the referendum is likely to be lost in divisive politics.

According to political and public policy analyst Ochieng Kanyadudi, the tragedy is that the referendum debate has now firmly assumed a battle of control between Raila and Ruto.

“This dichotomy has concurrently acquired a tribal dimension and with it savage agitation on both sides. It is unlikely that the protagonists will rise to the occasion and engage constructively for the benefit of the citizens, the national good and posterity. Debates are more likely to be guided by ethnic idiosyncrasies than the genuine weaknesses within the constitution,” he says.

DP Ruto and Raila Odinga [Photo: Courtesy]

He adds that referendum questions will unlikely be objective but slanted to suit short term parochial interests.

Raila has, however, insisted that the country will go to a referendum this year.

“This year is going to be a year of change in this country. We want to look at our governance structures and see what needs to be rectified. We want to change this country, and the change movement is on. Anybody who does not want to move with it will be left behind,” he said last week when he met members of the Kenya Universities Students Organization at his Capitol Hill office.

While the push by Raila and Uhuru is to create more seats, there is another initiative to reduce to reduce the size of government.

The Punguza Mzigo Initiative, which is the brainchild of Thirdway Alliance leader Ekuru Aukot, seeks to reduce the wage bill occasioned by a bloated Parliament. Aukot, who was the CEO of the Committee of Experts that drafted the 2010 Constitution, is proposing to reduce the number of MPs to 194.

In addition, he wants a reduction of huge salaries for elected leaders, including the President as well as reducing the presidency term to only one of seven years. He has so far collected over 600,000 signatures.