Raila Odinga’s Opposition coalition officially launched its referendum campaign, setting the stage for what could be a long-running duel with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration going right up to the 2017 General Election.
If the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) manages to force a referendum on a draft bill to amend the Constitution, it will reignite campaigns, just like in 2005 when Raila’s breakaway faction from then President Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) gave rise to the Orange movement, with the name borrowed from the ‘Yes’ symbol that ODM supported.
Raila and his team that includes his running mate during the March 2013 election Kalonzo Musyoka and Senator Moses Wetang’ula who is the Ford Kenya leader, made it clear Thursday they had resorted to a referendum bid after the Jubilee government rejected calls for dialogue to address national concerns. Uhuru’s team is against the plebiscite.
Should they succeed, issues that have stoked public discontent like insecurity, perception the Government is hostile to devolution, return of mega-corruption and tribalism in public appointments, which have dominated Opposition rallies, will form the agenda for CORD campaigns right into the next election. In a way, it may lead to a referendum on the Uhuru-Ruto administration - a contest any opposition would relish heading to a General Election.
Thursday, the Opposition leaders told rival Jubilee alliance to join them in the quest to change the law or else be humiliated by Kenyans. They spoke at the launch of the Okoa Kenya Draft Bill at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.
Raila told a cheering crowd that he had extended an invite for the launch to President Kenyatta, Ruto and other Jubilee leaders as a sign of their intention to bring all on board. “I extended an invitation to the President, his deputy and all MPs. Today, we launch this bill and head to the people of Kenya,” Raila said, adding they were now headed to the ‘court of public opinion’.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, however, argued the Opposition was mistaken if it hoped to recreate the political atmosphere of the 005 ‘banana-orange’ campaigns. “Let them not think it is 2005 all over again. That time is gone. The players are different. That time they had Uhuru, Ruto, Mudavadi, Balala and even me. In Okoa Kenya, they are on their own. The rest of the players are either in Government or they support this Government,” Duale told The Standard.
Raila, Kalonzo and Wetang’ula were joined by Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua, 23 senators, seven governors and 72 MPs at the colourful event.
The three leaders insisted that the quest to amend the Constitution was no longer a partisan agenda, but an exercise that was seeking to bring everyone on board.
And in what is likely to be a hot contest, Raila warned members of county assemblies not to be influenced or coerced to shoot down the bill. The law requires at least 24 county assemblies to pass the draft bill.
“We are telling our MCAs that should they be intimidated or bribed to shoot down the bill, we shall meet in the court of public opinion,” he warned.
Kalonzo said that on July 7 last year, their supporters not satisfied by the management of public affairs, had urged them to storm State House but they resisted it, adding that the bill now will provide opportunity “to change things”.
Wetang’ula announced that CORD will embark on nationwide rallies to popularise the bill, which has been drafted by the Okoa Kenya Movement’s committee of experts led by lawyer Paul Mwangi.
Karua who was received with cheers explained she supported the bill as it sought electoral reforms, adding that the current Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) cannot be trusted to conduct another election.
“If there will be no electoral reforms, then there is no need to participate in the next elections,” she said. The Narc Kenya leader also advised the Opposition parties to shun some of the vices that they accuse the ruling coalition of perpetrating so as to look markedly different. “During the Kanu days, we in the Opposition distinguished ourselves by not doing what the Government then was perpetrating. Let us avoid corruption and tribalism if we want to be different,” she added.
Jubilee has strongly opposed the referendum, arguing the country is not yet ready to amend a Constitution that is barely five years old, and accused Raila’s team of seeking to set up a premature political contest with the President.
Thursday, Duale said CORD should not celebrate just yet. “Their referendum campaign is not heading anywhere. It is like a small kid who is crawling. There is still a long way to go,” said Duale, who is also the Garissa Township MP.
“We have to know that a referendum is a right guaranteed by our Constitution. They have a right to pursue it. But on the Jubilee side, we understand that Kenyans know we have a contract of five years to run this country and we will focus on delivering our mandate. Let them go ahead with the referendum,” said Duale, adding: “The process is long. They have to get the bill approved in 24 counties; then they will have to make sure the signatures they collected are representative and wait for IEBC to say they are ready with the referendum. It is a long road and we wish them well,” Duale continued.
Ainamoi MP Benjamin Langat said the referendum contest will not pose a threat to the Jubilee administration.