Clash looms over timing of vote to amend the laws

President Uhuru Kenyatta (Centre) with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto at KICC after attending Interdenominational prayers. (Collins Kweyu, Standard)
A major political clash is looming over the timing of the proposed referendum to change the Constitution as some proponents want it held in December this year.

The debate on whether to hold it by December is likely to be a hot potato in coming days and might put President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in one camp against Deputy President William Ruto who wants the referendum question as the seventh ballot in the 2022 General Election.

On Thursday, while meeting public universities student leaders, Raila opened up about the push to have the changes take place this year and his position could easily be shared by President Kenyatta who has several times called for inclusity in government.

“This will be the year of change for this country, you make a choice to be with us or not. Nobody will stop the change that is coming,” said Raila in the strongest indication of the resolve a year after they unveiled the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) on March 9 last year.

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The momentum of the constitutional reforms peaked last week when Dr Ruto, once seen as its opposer, gave proposals of changes he wants captured.

His suggestions are the latest in a series of propositions submitted to both the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and public pronouncements.

Uhuru and Raila have several times validated the need for the review of the 2010 Constitution, and Ruto’s entry could seal the deal on the plebiscite debate.

In a speech he delivered at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, also known as Chatham House in London, Ruto supported creation of an all-inclusive government that avoids a winner-takes-it-all scenerio.

But Ruto argued that the suggestion that the national executive be expanded to accommodate a prime minister as well as two deputies does not solve the problem, which is that “we need a functional, constitutional official Opposition”.

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The DP insisted that the leader of the party which comes second in polls becomes the leader of the Opposition and with his or her running mate, automatically become members of Parliament, and assume leadership of the Official Opposition.

It is, however, the question of timing that is likely to raise political temperatures between the two political formations.

“We need to ask ourselves if it’s possible to have the census this year, boundaries delianation next year and general election thereafter and a referendum in between, we could agree to have it with the elections in 2022,” Ruto said.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale seemed to be of the same idea and yesterday dismissed Raila’s proposal of the referendum taking place this year as impractical and rush.

“Referendum is a process, given all the steps required for the Constitution to be changed, there are clear timelines and from where I sit, I do not see this thing practical,” said Duale.

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According to Duale, the process of collecting signatures, verification, presenting bills to the 47 county assemblies, debate in the National Assembly and Senate to the ultimate plebiscite will take more months and would not be possible by December. “Add to the fact that the need to first have Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) stand on its feet, it will be a long shot this year,” he said.

But IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said the electoral body was prepared and ready to conduct the vote this year.

“Legally it is possible and the commission remains prepared,” said Chebukati.

At the heart of the proposals is the creation of a premier position which is now a bone of contention between the two political formations.

The issue of prime minister position and two deputies has been suggested several times as part of curing the winner-takes-it all politics, according to BBI task force joint secretary Paul Mwangi.

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Siaya Senator James Orengo said if there was consensus across the political divide and multi-sectoral groups then it was practically possible to have the law vote within the year.

“We have been there before, in 2008 we took a short time to change the law because there was consensus. If we go the same route, the remaining months will be enough to have referendum,” Orengo said.

As soon as possible

His sentiments were shared by Nominated MP Maina Kamanda who said with no opposition to the process the change within this year was doable.

“It will be good to have the law reforms done with as soon as possible so that we can concentrate on the implementation of the Big Four agenda, no point in allowing the the politics to drag on for long,” said Kamanda.

Ruto’s position on the changes has ruffled feathers, with some Jubilee MPs in his support, while ODM brigade disagreeing on retention of an absolute presidential system.

ODM leaders, led by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Opiyo Wandayi insisted on introducing a parliamentary democracy.

“When legislative power is united with executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, what manifests is tyranny,” Wandayi said.

The Orange party leaders say the vast majority of stable democracies have parliamentary systems.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo said if the presidential system has refused to work then it should be reviewed.

Amollo advocated separation of powers as a constitutional structure to prevent the law-making, law-enforcing, and law-interpreting functions from resting in a single seat.

“We are going into a referendum with one singular objective, which is to radically transform the Executive structure to ensure wide dispersal of power,” said Wandayi.

ODM wants a hybrid system of government in which executive power is shared between the prime minister and the president.

This means all the functions of the head of civil service will effectively be transferred to the PM’s office, should Kenyans adopt it in the looming referendum.

And speaking in Nakuru County yesterday, Nominated MP David Sankok supported Ruto’s proposals of changes in the executive.

Sankok said focus should be placed on having a strong opposition that will be able to keep the government on toes.

[Additional reporting by Kepher Otieno and Kennedy Gachuhi]

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William Ruto2022 General ElectionRaila OdingaConstitutionReferendum