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Bipartisan fight to protect devolution turns into fierce political battle

By FRANCIS NGIGE

KENYA: Although the clamour for a referendum started as a bipartisan approach by governors and senators to protect devolution, it slowly degenerated into a political duel between rival coalitions.

In its formative stages, the referendum issue appeared to give the new Jubilee administration nightmares as it snowballed into a full-blown crisis after CORD coalition plunged into the debate.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto had a reason to worry as senators and governors across the political divide vowed to rally their supporters to amend the Constitution through a popular initiative.

This, they figured, would be a real test to their government and would present the opponents a platform to once again test their political mettle after the March 4 election.

The initiators of the move to amend the Constitution wanted the devolution funds threshold increased to 40 per cent and senators given a bigger say in the division of revenue, especially those going to devolved units.

But matters came to a head when CORD leaders, led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, waded into the debate with even more radical changes to the Constitution that included an overhaul of the governance system.

As the debate was gaining momentum across the country, CORD leaders dropped the bombshell that would be pushing for the introduction of a parliamentary system to replace the presidential one.

And this seemed to be the last stroke that broke the camel’s back as the original intention of the plebiscite was overshadowed by the clamour to change the system of governance. This was interpreted by Jubilee as an attempt by CORD to settle political scores and further subject it to another contest.

With Raila leading the brigade, the Government feared that although senators and governors, including those from the ruling coalition, would be genuine in their demands, a success would be attributed to the former premier. Uhuru dared governors and opposition politicians over their push for a referendum.

“Respect the Constitution and stop threatening the government with constitutional amendments to serve partisan interests,” Uhuru said.

Before the debate could escalate, Uhuru and Ruto started rallying Jubilee troops to reject the referendum issue, saying it was an attempt by CORD to disrupt its development agenda.

They started by warning leaders in the ruling coalition on the harm of subjecting the country to another polls, just months after the General Election.

With the warning and some CORD leaders still pushing to change the presidential system, leaders allied to Jubilee started pulling away from the initiative.

Jubilee Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki accused CORD of hijacking the process to push its own political agenda.

Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi also said he was disturbed by CORD’s decision to use the poll to change the presidential system.