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BBI sails past county assemblies paving way for referendum

By Vincent Kejitan and Roselyne Obala | February 23rd 2021

More than 24 county assemblies have voted in favour of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, surpassing the required constitutional threshold.

Focus now shifts to the Senate and National Assembly whose voting on the Bill is mainly ceremonial. Article 257 of the constitution requires that the Speakers of the two Houses receive certificates from the county assemblies’ speakers before the Bill is introduced in the respective Houses.

The law is, however, silent on the timelines and in the absence of the referendum law, the two Houses will have to dispense with the matter at the soonest time possible.

Whether either House approves or rejects the Bill, is inconsequential. The role of parliament, in this case, is ceremonial as the people will have the final say at the ballot.

Last week, MPs allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga clashed with their colleagues in Deputy President William Ruto’s camp over the Referendum Bill, with one side pushing for a ‘yes or no’ referendum and the other calling for a multi-question referendum.

Ruto’s allies kept up the pressure to amend the National Assembly Bill No.14 of 2020 to allow for a multiple-question referendum.

The House Business Committee has prioritised a Bill by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee over one by the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) that proposed a multiple-question plebiscite.

MPs in Ruto’s camp are pushing the House to allow members to bring amendments, including lifting certain clauses from the CIOC Bill so the public can vote for each and every item in the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 mid this year.

Deputy President William Ruto [File, Standard]

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed said those pushing for a multiple-question referendum are free to bring their own amendments instead of seeking to mutilate the proposed changes.

“I happen to be one of the promoters of the BBI Bill. We went out there and collected one million signatures and took them to the IEBC with the draft BBI Bill. After all that, somebody wakes up from his slumber and tells me that he wants to subject that Bill–a Bill that is by popular initiative from collecting one million signatures–to a multiple choice question.

In December 2020, Jubilee Party Vice-Chairman David Murathe strongly disagreed with the proposal of DP Ruto for a multi-choice question referendum.

Speaking during an interview on KTN Prime, Murathe said the DP’s proposal to have multiple questions in the referendum suggests Kenyans are not intelligent enough to decipher the constitutional amendments proposed by the BBI report.

“In politics, you can never have a referendum or a contest which is a consensus contest. It has to be the majority have their way and the minority have their say.

“In this case, people have read and this document is in the public domain…people are intelligent enough to go for it or to go against it,” he said.

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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