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ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna (left), Florence Mutua, Getrude Mbeyu and Opiyo Wandayi address the media after a parliamentary group meeting in Nairobi yesterday. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ODM has abandoned the quest for a powerful prime minister, citing the need to embrace different views in order to rally broad support for the Building Bridges Initiative report.

The Orange party had lobbied for an executive Prime Minister and a single seven-year presidential term in its submissions to the BBI task force.

But those proposals were not incorporated in the final report, prompting some ODM members to signal that they would still push for a parliamentary system of government with an executive premier.

Yesterday, however, following a meeting of the party’s Parliamentary Group and the National Executive Council (NEC) chaired by Raila, the party made a u-turn on the demands citing the need to accommodate the views of other Kenyans.

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“Even though that’s what we presented and wanted, we must, however, be able to listen and accommodate the views of Kenyans who presented a different opinion,” party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said when asked about the party’s quest for a powerful PM and single seven-year presidential term. 

And reading the formal statement after the meeting, Sifuna said: “As a party we are cognizant of the fact that BBI process is a consultative give and take and that no one party or individual can bulldoze the discussion or indeed the outcome.”

The push for a powerful prime minister who is the head of government appointed from the party with majority MPs had in particular drawn resistance from MPs from Mt Kenya, including some who have warmed up to Raila, who had argued the region was disadvantaged as their number of representatives was not proportionate to their population. They coined a one-man-one-vote clarion call to demand redress during the upcoming constituency boundary review.

ODM, through its technical committee, had proposed a seven-year non-renewable term which they argued would take focus away from the presidency, which had become the trophy for ethnic competition.

Apart from that they had also proposed the restructuring of the Executive to re-introduce a parliamentary system and have a president elected by a college of legislatures and proposed the creation of the Prime Minister’s post with two deputies.

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Yesterday, Sifuna said that there are many areas of improvement in the report and that there should be a sober discussion about the report authored by the task force led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji. 

He explained that the Orange party’s goals have not changed and that they are consistent with those of the BBI.

Although some of their proposals were not considered, many of the recommendations in the BBI report reflect their thinking, he added. 

“We have always advocated the strengthening of devolution, realisation of gender parity, fighting corruption and empowering our youth and are happy that the report addresses these,” said Sifuna.

According to Sifuna, Raila’s party is of the view that proposals that limit the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission returning officers to one election and restricting procurement officers to two year contracts would be counterproductive.

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Instead, the party wants focus to be shifted to prevention of malpractice and punishment of individuals as opposed to blanket condemnation.

He also reiterated that BBI process remains people driven as ultimately all the issues on the table are for and about the people.

“It has been resolved that we engage in an honest and sober debate on the many recommendations and that the party shall submit a detailed position on all areas to the BBI team of experts when the time comes.”

Raila, who chaired the four-hour meeting, told the legislators and the NEC officials that they should do something with the second chance the BBI has accorded and not waste it in the pursuit of politics as usual.

“Let’s take this second chance as an opportunity to throw off a legacy of corruption; tribalism, divisions, dysfunctional institutions and mistrust that have held us back for over 50 years,” said Raila.

He reiterated his belief that the BBI, commissioned following his March 9 2018 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta to end conflict following the disputed 2017 presidential vote, is good for the country.

In a thinly veiled attack on Deputy President William Ruto, Raila said that the recommendations as contained in the BBI report are not a threat to anyone’s political ambition.

“The BBI gives us a chance to come up with a Kenyan economic model to secure full employment for citizens, especially the youth, protect Human Rights to counter systemic violations; end marginalisation of regions and communities by taking more resources to the grassroots while holding leaders accountable for those resources and increasing cohesion in Kenya,” he explained.

He went on: “Nobody should have a quarrel with these goals. And these goals surely cannot pose a threat to anybody’s political ambitions.”

“From here, what we should be debating is what to adopt, what to amend and what to discard out of the BBI proposals. We will task ourselves to sensitise our people about the journey so far, the report itself and the likely scenarios in the days and months ahead,” said Raila.

Edwin Sifuna ODM Secretary General BBI
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