Elections 2017

How referendum reality could upset political arena ahead of 2022

Thirdway Alliance Party Leader Ekuru Aukot during a press briefing. (Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard)

It is fresh headache for President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga as the reality of a referendum looms.

On Thursday, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati gave a nod to a popular initiative after it successfully presented more than one million signatures for the country to go into a plebiscite.

Mr Chebukati’s move follows constitutional lawyer Dr Ekuru Aukot and his Thirdway Alliance Party presentation of more than 1.2 million signatures for their Punguza Mizigo Bill 2019 initiative.

Has been down played

The possibility of a referendum sometimes next year, according to approximate timelines, could completely change the 2022 political arithmetic.

IEBC’s clearance of the of the Punguza Mizigo Bill 2019 initiative takes the country to the verge of the first referendum on the 2010 Constitution.

But the initiative that has been downplayed since it started last year, has caught the political bigwigs flat footed including President Kenyatta, Dr Ruto and Raila who could now be forced to go back to the drawing table.

In March last year, Kenyatta and Raila formed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was tasked to collect views across the country with a possible change of the Constitution. This was seen as a process that would lead the country to review the Constitution after five other similar attempts failed.

But now the focus shifts to the County Assemblies, where Aukot’s team is supposed to get the nod of at least 24 of them for the Punguza Mizigo Bill.

By yesterday, some county assemblies had received the Bill from IEBC.

“Having received the Punguza Mizigo proposals in Nyeri County Assembly I will organise for sessions for members to objectively ventilate on all the proposals given. It’s expected that the MCAs will then make either an individual or collective stand on the proposals that shall inform the outcome of the vote,” Nyeri County Assembly Speaker John Kaguchia said, confirming receipt of the Bill.

Aukot insisted that his process is for the betterment of Kenya.

He said: “We came to you, you listened and endorsed. We thank IEBC for the above board signature verification exercise. This is for the people of Kenya.”

“If it passes through the County Assembly, whether Parliament passes it or not is immaterial, it will have to go through a referendum,” said former Committee of Experts (CoE) chair Nzamba Kitonga.

Former CoE member Bobby Mkangi concurred with Mr Kitonga saying the proces is unstopable once the County Assemblies approve the Bill.

The recent development could easily throw Kenyatta and Raila’s initiative led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji in limbo and also disrupt the 2022 succession politics for the ruling party and the opposition.

Yesterday, the divided opinion about the initiative by top Jubilee leadership confirmed that Aukot may have upset the political order of the country.

National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said the initiative was dead on arrival because of its attempt to reduce people’s representation in Parliament.

Funeral journey

“By attempting to cut on the representation of the people, the Punguza Mizigo Bill has begun its journey to the funeral at the County Assemblies, we will lobby them to reject in total,” said Duale.

But Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen disclosed that they are considering endorsing Punguza Mizigo Bill and said the proposal to make Senate an upper House is likely to be received well by senators.

“In the current context of what we are going through, the constitutional issues we are dealing with in the Senate and counties, Aukot’s proposals are extremely attractive to those who support devolution, if it is that attractive, there is high probability that his proposal will pass,” Mr Murkomen said.

“Because of the provision on strengthening Senate and strengthening devolution and guaranteeing 35 per cent going to counties again that is extremely attractive to Senate there is high chances senators might welcome his proposals based on the current struggle we have had for the last six years,” he added.

He was optimistic that the proposal could sail through in more than 24 County Assemblies given the benefits it promises the devolved units once adopted.

Among the radical proposals in the Punguza Mizigo Bill are one term presidency, the Senate being the Upper House with veto power and the reduction of MPs from 416 to 147.

It proposes to use the ward as the primary unit of development replacing National Government Constituency Fund (NG-CDF) hence taking development to the people. It also proposes to abolish nominations in county assemblies and Senate. 

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka however, said the initiative came at the wrong time when the country was keenly following the BBI process which they hope will midwife the changes to the 2010 Constitution.

More funds

“We need to remain focused, the initiative might distract us from the real changes we are yearning through the BBI,” said Kalonzo.

Governors have also been pushing for allocation of more funds to counties and their crusade to achieve the same flopped through the Pesa Mashinani Initiative and now the Punguza Mizigo Bill has offered them a lifeline.

Already, governors have planned a one million meeting at Uhuru Park to push for increased funding.

“We would like to book Uhuru Park grounds for the meeting on August 17 to popularize the Council of Governors referendum issues. We anticipate to host one million Kenyans who will come from all wards in the country,” Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya stated in a letter notifying Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko of reservation of the grounds.

Interestingly, Mr Oparanya said he was opposed to the Punguza Mizigo Bill and instead prefers that the country first finishes with the BBI initiative.

The Kakamega Governor said the Aukot initiative could distract the BBI that has the voices of Kenyans from being the one to midwife the changes.

The county chiefs have cried foul over the dwindling allocation to counties pegged at at least 15 per cent of the revenue raised and based on 2013/2014 financial report.

In the Bill, the Governor will nominate from among the duly vetted and appointed County Executive Officers, to be his/her Principal Assistant for purposes of administration. In the unlikely event of the position of Governor falling vacant, the seat will be filled through a by-election.

Aukot argues that, the current supremacy battle between Senate and National Assembly will be cured by the Bill, as it seeks make the former the Upper House.

Yesterday, former IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba said the only way for the government to manage the process is to have Parliament initiate its own process through a Bill to change the Constitution.