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What awaits BBI million signature collection

By Vincent Kejitan | November 18th 2020 at 15:55:16 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during the BBI launch at Bomas of Kenya on October 26,2020. [Stafford Ondego]

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report was pompously launched on October 26, 2020, but the next hurdle – the collection of the requisite million signatures and a referendum will signify the level of determination by its pushers.

Leaders allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga will spare no effort to win in the referendum but those leaning towards Deputy President William Ruto have called for more inclusivity before the document is passed.

Earlier this week, Odinga expressed optimism that they would collect five million signatures in an ambitious one-week drive that will seek to exceed the one million backing of registered voters required for a referendum.

The signature collection drive is set to be launched tomorrow, November 19, 2020, but a section of Kenyans have called on leaders to channel their efforts towards more pressing issues like the economy and Covid-19.

How the signatures will be collected

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According to Junet Mohammed, Co-chair of the referendum committee, coordinated teams that will collect signatures at the national, county, constituency and ward levels.

Governors will lead the push in counties, MPs will handle constituencies while MCAs will focus on the wards.

“We have set teams at the county, constituency and ward levels. The plan is to collect four to five million signatures within a week. County coordinating committees will be led by governors,” said Junet.

However, it remains to be seen what will happen in counties such as Makueni where Governor Kivutha Kibwana says he will not support the initiative unless it embraces inclusivity.

The Constitution states that the draft Bill must be approved by at least 24 county assemblies before it can be introduced to Parliament.

Once submitted to the county assemblies, the draft Bill must be debated and passed within three months.

Time frame

According to the Elections Act, whenever it is necessary to hold a referendum on any issue, the President shall by notice refer the issue to the Commission (IEBC) for the purposes of conducting the plebiscite.

Following formulation and publication of a referendum question, the IEBC shall, within 14 days, publish a notice of holding the referendum on all media platforms and the notice shall specify; the question(s), symbols assigned for the answers, date of the referendum (not less than 21 days after publication of notice), polling time and the day and time which the two teams (for/against) shall start and cease their campaigns.

What happens when you exceed a million signatures?

An IEBC official who spoke to anonymously because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the commission said it was prudent  ?for the referendum pushers to submit more than a million signatures because some will be rejected like in the case where one is not a registered voter.

He said the practice is to scrutinise all signatures and announce how much you have exceeded the required number or fallen short of it.

Who foots the bill?

According to the law, each referendum committee shall bear its own costs during the campaign period of the referendum and the costs include payment of the agents of the respective referendum committees.

Recently, Raila hit out at IEBC saying a referendum cannot cost Sh14 billion and that the commission was using elections to rip off the country.

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati swiftly responded to those allegations by providing a cost breakdown of recent electoral activities.

The 2010 Referendum cost Sh10 billion, the 2017 Fresh Presidential Election cost Sh11.9 billion while the 2021 Proposed Referendum is estimated to cost Sh13.7 billion.

Voting threshold

The Elections Act states that: “A referendum question on an issue other than that contemplated in Articles 255 and 256 of the Constitution shall be decided by a simple majority of the citizens voting in the referendum.”

Less than 1 million signatures — How Cord’s Okoa Kenya referendum flopped

As the country prepares for another referendum, it is important to recall how the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) flopped in its bid to amend the Constitution in 2016.

At the time, the proposal flopped for failing to meet the required threshold of 1million signatures. According to IEBC’s chairman at the time, Issack Hassan, only 891,598 registered voters supported the initiative.

The Opposition, however, claimed that the fate of the Okoa Kenya referendum signatures was sealed courtesy of a conspiracy between the ruling coalition and the commission.

Raila said a fresh electoral body was required because IEBC had been compromised.

"IEBC should be disbanded immediately to ensure a level playing ground in the next elections. As it stands, IEBC is serving the interests of Jubilee," he said at the time.

BBI Signatures Referendum Constitution of Kenya
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