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Mixed fortunes as tide changes for ‘Yes’

By | May 19th 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

From the start, it all looked too easy for the ‘Yes’ side and the referendum was theirs to lose. First, one of Kenya’s legendary campaign titans Raila Odinga was on their side.

Secondly, there was the behemoth government machinery and thirdly a public that has grown weary with the hits and misses in the 20-year quest for a new constitution.

But alas, the fortunes are beginning to change and the ‘Yes’ men will have to calibrate their message and re-work their approach as the ‘No’ side gains ground.

Though in absolute figures, the ‘Yes’ side still leads, the ‘No’ side is clawing its way up the ladder.

Two opinion polls during Prime Time News last week after the discovery of the "national security" insertion, suggest that the contest has been thrown wide and it could go either way.

I may be wrong, but all indications are that the tide is changing albeit slowly.

This is all attributed to the strident voices from the pulpit, the lies and the antipathy stoked by the ‘No’ campaigners, the mediocre approach that the ‘Yes’ camp has adopted in its push for the new constitution.

Off all these, add the false sense of comfort and the pride and you begin to see why the fortunes are turning.

Also, by virtue of being the defenders, ‘Yes’ was disadvantaged in the contest.

In truth, it is harder defending than attacking. It is even harder defending as a divided team and that is why ‘No’ is making gains. Attacking gives room for lies and flukes. Defending demands extra-care and strategy.

Yet obviously, many are having second thoughts about the ‘Yes’ side because of the disharmony and friction caused by petty disagreement and internecine wars.

The acidic rivalry between Raila and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and the partisan, machine politics exhibited by the heckling at the launch of the ‘Yes’ campaign rally at Uhuru Park on Saturday was needless.

One-man show

Whether Kalonzo flip-flopped before, it has never occurred to me why the ‘Yes’ camp is hesitant to keep Kalonzo in its embrace as it tries to woe others. Or why those in the ‘Yes’ side are eager to make it a one-man show. Kalonzo’s tribulations can be traced back to pre-2007 General Election days when he and Raila disagreed.

But that is not how to treat a Johnny-come-lately. What is worse, to treat him and others of diverse opinion as anathema, amplifies the irony that whereas we are trying to fix the rotten political system that promotes intolerance and bigotry, the ‘Yes’ camp could be the unlikely victims of it as many decamp or stay away alltogether from the fray.

It is debatable whether Raila and Kalonzo provoke loyalty and loathing in equal measure, but watching a discombobulated Kalonzo at the rally was e‘No’ugh to evoke sympathy for the man from Seikuru.

The exuberant crowds jeering the VP portrayed the pride that omi‘No’usly comes before a fall. Anyone would rejoice upon the return of a prodigal son.

Apparently, those in the ‘Yes’ camp and the mobs that besieged Kalonzo have different thoughts about that. And that boggles the mind.

Make ‘No’ mistake; hope was the only thing that stood between a clean campaign devoid of the bigotry and the skullduggery of the politicians and a 2005-style campaign. Add the vitriolic tirade of trade unionists and that hope dissipates.

Apparently, what had looked like a disjointed ‘No’ campaign is causing waves and vacuuming the undecided voters and those disgusted by the petulance of the politicians and union leaders.

So with the bewildering levels of misinformation and lies peddled as civic education, it is becoming increasingly clear that those on the ‘Yes’ side have been wrong-footed.

With the anarchy and the incessant in fighting, the ‘Yes’ camp’s message has been miscued and sometimes out of synch in contrast with the clergy’s relentless and pulverising polemic sponged by a gullible faithful.

Though this risks sowing seeds of hatred and division it has ensured that the message gets to their audience as the ‘Yes’ camp grapples the slow debilitating in-fighting and suspicion within its ranks and the resurgence of the ‘No’ camp.

The layers of stereotypes are so thick that the more important issue of a new constitution has been pushed to the back-burner.

Small, petty wars

The ‘Yes’ has been at pains to drum up support for the constitution and handicapped to tell the people that adopting the Proposed Constitution is only one part, a small part of the reform that is necessary to move the country forward. Or that the Proposed Constitution is Not the best, but it is necessary.

It is ‘No’t as simple as that, but with a lot of its energy expended in small, petty wars, they could wake up and find the train has left the station.

Because it will take a lot for a divided house to clearly state that the need for a new constitution is less because of what the Christians and some politicians are opposed to than because of what the patronising, ruling elite have done to Kenya with the current Constitution.

The writer is Foreign News Editor at The Standard.

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