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'No' strategy rattles 'Yes'

By | Published Sun, July 4th 2010 at 00:00, Updated Sun, July 4th 2010 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Biketi Kikechi

With just a month to the referendum on the Proposed Constitution, the 'No' camp claim to have succeeded in bogging down the 'Greens' by riveting national attention on just three clauses. How far this will contribute to a win or loss on the ballot on August 4 is another issue altogether.

Coast residents acknowledge cheers during a ‘No’ rally on the Proposed Constitution at Mariakani Trading Centre, on Saturday. Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard

Until last week when the 'Yes' team came up with an 11-point strategy to boost up its campaigns — by splitting into groups and spreading across the country — 'No' seems to have a wider reach, despite fielding fewer high-profiled personalities in its campaigns.

Though it may not be a determinant of votes, whereas 'Yes', which has denied it is staking out State funds to oil its war machine, managed to raise only Sh6 million for its public outreach programme, the 'No' team raised at least Sh7 million at last week’s ‘Red’ harambee.

While the 'Yes' grappled with internal wars over the alleged presence of ‘water-melons’ (those who are 'Yes' and 'No' at night) in its ranks, 'No kept it busy by reducing the campaign to the three so-called ‘negative’ clauses — the Kadhi’s Courts, Land and conditional — in the draft law.

It is only last week that ‘Yes’ met and realised it had swallowed ‘No’s’ bait — and resolved to market the many ‘positives’ in the Proposed Constitution.

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Worse, the ‘Yes’ team, it complicated matters for itself by unrelentingly agreeing publicly with ‘No’ that there were indeed ‘poisonous’ clauses in the proposed law.

Arrogant and complacent

It also decided, albeit belatedly, to anchor its campaigns on the fact that 20-year struggle for new constitutional order is a long time — and it was time it was brought to a close. Thirdly, this group also chose to tackle the perception that it was arrogant and complacent, by extending an olive branch to those who are either wavering, or are just paying lip service to its campaigns.

Then out of the blue, as ‘Yes’ resolved to bury the past and haul its vehicle from the mud, Prime Minister Raila Odinga was hospitalised, taking with him his organisational prowess and energy on the campaign trail. Though the ‘Yes’ team, and the PM too, said the battle would go on, its nation-wide programme took a beating, and it is only yesterday that President Kibaki took the war to the doorsteps of the so-called Central Kenya ‘water-melons’.

It is against this background that ‘No’, which started off with its own admission that even if ‘Yes wins, their consolation would be that they fought the draft law, is today given a little bit more than a cursory glance in the political arena.

Furthermore, ‘No’ leaders led by Higher Education minister William Ruto is using a fair amount of their time on radio talk shows, TV interviews and at rallies to reinforce its attack on the draft on the basis of these clauses.

Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua shrugs off claims the ‘No’ side succeeded in putting her camp on the defensive, and playing catch-up. "I don’t agree; any time I am on air or at a forum I go through all important issues. How come you are deaf to that?" she asks.

However, the ‘No’ team has also succeeded in its psychological strategy, by claiming they may look few, out there, there are many ‘No’ supporters who pass themselves along as ‘Yes’ members for reasons of political expediency.

By pitting themselves against all the odds, including risks of defying the President and setting themselves against the State’s machinery, the three ‘No’ team’s ministers could easily have carved themselves a niche as brave and may be even daredevil.

Not doing enough

Despite the odds, the ‘Red’ team now boasts it has support, not just in its Rift Valley bedrock, but also in Central and Eastern Kenya. It is this claim that has forced Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta to fight the perception they could be ‘watermelons’.

The presence of televangelists at the ‘No’ rallies is also exciting crowds, hence the big attendances they are drawing.

If it is true, as suggested by Ruto and Cabinet minister Dr Naomi Shaaban, ‘watermelon’ politicians contributed to their campaigns, then they gave at least Sh1 million.

Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, who is in ‘Yes’, argues Kalonzo, Uhuru and Party of National Unity Secretary General Energy Kiraitu Murungi are not doing enough to support the document. "They should show their presence more in Ukambani, Central and Meru just like Ruto did in Rift Valley," adds Imanyara.

Ruto and a group of 21 MPs who openly campaign with him have covered Meru, Coast, Ukambani and Rift Valley.

The Minister is working with Information Minister Samuel Poghisio, who is the chairman of Kalonzo’s ODM Kenya party.

"The ‘Reds’ are a small band of people who appear to be very well organised and funded, enabling them to move very quickly, as opposed to the ‘Yes’ camp whose members of Cabinet are dysfunctional group," argued Imanyara.

The ‘No’ team’s message of rejecting, amending it later and passing it before the end of the year, to disarm those unconvinced in ‘Yes’ and to deflect claims it is anti-reform.

Ruto insists agitation for the new law should not be tied to 2012 elections or attempts to build political careers. He calls the draft law controversial, ambiguous and contentious. He denies being in ‘No’ just to spite his fiercest political rival — Raila.

There are also those who argue ‘No’ team also is benefiting from the fear many politicians in the ‘Yes’ side have of looking like it is at war with the Church, which is opposed to the draft law. Indeed, civil society activists argued in some cases selling the draft law in some rural areas is a tall order because the people appear to trust religious leaders more.

Disseminating the draft

"They are more knowledgeable on clauses related to land, abortion and Kadhis’ courts because that is all they are hearing," says Mr George Kamuria Wanyama who is disseminating the draft in Eldoret and Kitale.

The ‘No’ side may however soon have to contend the alleged plans by ‘Yes’ to fund give each of its MPs.

"We want to know where the government will get the Sh5 million it intends to allocate each MP for the campaigns?" asked Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo.

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