Eyes on Jubilee as the referendum debate hots up

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga at a past function. 
Referendum calls, the 2019 census and delimitation of boundaries could potentially radically change the political landscape and bring together strange bedfellows ahead of 2022 campaigns.

As the storms gather over whether or not to change the Constitution -- triggered by opposition chief Raila Odinga less than a month ago while addressing the Devolution Conference in Kakamega -- all eyes are on the dominant Jubilee Party.

Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party appeared to be entertaining the idea of changing the supreme law, a move that will run counter to the wishes of the second in command, Deputy President William Ruto.

“We have some of our leaders saying it is too soon after the gruelling elections (to talk about a referendum), while some are saying this is the right time to address some of the issues that have in the past threatened to divide the country,” says David Murathe, the Jubilee Party chairman and close wingman of the President.

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“Our secretariat will give us the report, which we will deliberate on at the National Executive Council (NEC),” said Murathe yesterday after a meeting of the party in Nanyuki.

Deep divisions are beginning to show between the change-the-constitution agitators and those opposed to the law reforms, with the political bigwigs beginning to fall into line on either side.

Political watcher Herman Manyora of the University of Nairobi, opined that the referendum will determine the direction of 2022 politics.

Dr Manyora said those who will win if the plebiscite is held will want to carry the momentum to the elections.

Presidential powers

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At the centre of the agitation to change the 2010 document is the dispersal of presidential powers and creation of more executive positions for what the politicians call “inclusivity”.

Readily on the table is the introduction of a hybrid system of government, that could see the creation of positions of Prime Minister and two deputies.

Raila, the key mover of the agitation, has also proposed a three-tier system that will see the creation of 14 regional governments along the emerging blocs, and the retention of the current counties.

Raila’s call, which has since gained momentum, comes two months after the famous “handshake” between him and President Uhuru, which political analysts say will introduce new political partners and potentially change political formations. So far, the referendum push has received the support of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi.

On the other hand, Ruto says Kenya does not need another referendum “to create positions for politicians”, but that instead leaders should work for the people.

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The DP says some of the proposed changes can be resolved without using billions of taxpayers’ money in a referendum.

And he has been backed by National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen, who term the campaign as unnecessary political distraction to President Kenyatta’s development agenda.

“We will not entertain any clamour for the changes to the Constitution at whatever time. Jubilee is not ready to take the country back to a referendum or election mood,” says Duale.

But even with such opposition, the Independent and Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) appeared to be leaving options open in the event that it comes to pass.

The IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, early last week said the polls body was ready for a referendum if one was to be called.

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