President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement that he does not support calls to change the Constitution took many by surprise, puncturing the hopes of the Opposition and emboldening a faction of his Jubilee party.
Political experts say the President’s decision not to support calls for a referendum will have far-reaching political ramifications for his party and his relationship with the Opposition. After a long silence on the matter, the President on Friday made known his stance on the matter that has been at the centre of current political talk during a round-table forum with members of the Private Sector Alliance.
The President’s message was clear: A referendum would distract him from his focus, the Big Four Agenda, and he does not have time to run around telling people to change the Constitution.
“I want to deliver on the promises we made to Kenyans. Changing the constitution will not solve the problems we have. But engaging with the private sector on manufacturing like we are doing will,” Uhuru said during 8th Presidential Round Table Forum.
By saying so, Uhuru took an opposite direction from Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s, a man he has found nothing to differ with on since the March 9 handshake when they resolved to work together to unite the country. Raila’s calls for a re-look of the 2010 Constitution have been growing louder by the day.
Since he first made the call in Kakamega during last month’s Devolution Conference, the matter has been picked up by his party ODM and has even drawn the support of his NASA principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.
At the top of Raila’s calls for a referendum is the introduction of a three-tier Government, a position that has been supported by Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.
With Uhuru’s declaration on Friday, the question in the minds of many people is what it means for the two leaders three months after their famous handshake.
Just before Uhuru pronounced himself of the matter, his party secretariat meeting in Nanyuki last week agreed the push to change the Constitution was an untimely distraction to the Governments agenda. The Nanyuki deliberations could have informed Uhuru’s stance on the raging debate. His deputy William Ruto has been opposed to the calls to change the Constitution since Raila first made them. Yesterday, Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale said the President’s stance on the matter sealed the debate. “We are behind President Kenyatta. As Jubilee, we want him to secure his legacy by supporting his programmes and cutting down on politics to concentrate on development,” Duale said.
Duale says that since it is the right of any Kenyan to push for changes, those interested in changing the Constitution should channel their initiatives through Parliament through a Bill or by collecting one million signatures to kickstart the process. “Let the proponents of change the Constitution follow the process through Parliament or the people’s initiative. We wish them luck. The President has pronounced himself and our duty is to obey and help in his development agenda,” Duale said. His Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen was more dismissive: “The change the Constitution proponents do not have campaign promises to fulfill. They have more time to politic,” he said.
The Opposition was apprehensive of Uhuru’s position on the stance. Two weeks ago, ODM endorsed the push for constitutional changes and were already taking views on areas it feels need to be changed. ODM leadership had kicked of a tour of the country to revamp the party at the grass roots in readiness for a referendum.
The team, led by Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, has already met delegates from Vihiga and Kakamega. Today, they will tour Busia before heading to Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties.
“We will traverse all the 47 counties to sell the agenda of constitutional reforms. There is need to restructure the Executive through a popular vote,” Sifuna said.