Inside Ruto’s game plan to push the plebiscite to 2022

Deputy President William Ruto (centre) hosting MPs, Senators and Governors at his Karen home. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Opponents of the proposed constitutional changes are working on a game plan to halt or delay the process until 2022.

A think tank within Deputy President Ruto’s ranks is said to have put in place concrete measures that will seek to have the referendum delayed to avert any political arrangement that could bring a campaign for or against the vote.

The fear within Ruto’s camp is that a referendum before the General Election could disrupt the political matrix for the DP, seen as a front runner in the presidential contest in 2022.

Though not adversely opposed to the proposals in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, the DP’s camp is however weary of a political contest that could drain them financially but also open up for campaign in regions they believed they had ring-fenced for 2022.

Already, the collection of signatures that ended on Friday with 5.2 million signatories has seen top politicians traverse regions to promote the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2020.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, Kanu’s Gideon Moi, Amani National Congress’s Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper visited their regions during the signature-collection period.

Raila, who had not visited Mt Kenya region for a long time, went to Kigumo Constituency in Murang’a County to promote the BBI Bill. Mt Kenya region has been seen as swaying towards Ruto. On Friday, Gideon was in Embu to drum up support for the Bill, just shortly after Raila.

Ruto’s game plan is four-pronged and includes the push to delay the referendum past August 2021 by instituting a number of court cases to put bumps on the path of the plebiscite push.

Others are an attempt to deny the initiative the 24-county-assembly majority, a requirement by the Constitution for the referendum Bill to proceed to Parliament.

Not participating

One of the last strategies, which was hinted at by Ruto during his interview with Citizen TV, is that he would consider not taking part in the process.

“If it gets to a place where the process is threatening the peace of the country, then I will not participate in the referendum. I will not participate in anything that divides the people of Kenya,” he said.

Failure of the Ruto camp to participate in the plebiscite, according to the think tank, is meant to lead to a poor turnout in the vote that will then portray the process as unpopular and affect momentum for the 2022 election.

But Jubilee vice-chair David Murathe yesterday said those opposed to the document are mischievous and are trying to employ any means to frustrate the process.

A source privy to the Ruto strategies noted that they are determined to deny the referendum push steam that would propel it to the General Election.

“This will ensure that our political strategy is not greatly affected. We want to go into the General Election with little variables. The referendum, we hope, as the promoters intend, will not have any steam a few months after it is done,” said the source who sought anonymity.

The hosting of the delegation of MPs by Ruto in his Karen home, Nairobi, according to Belgut MP Nelson Koech, was meant to show that his position was people-based.

“When such a number of leaders makes a resolution, only insensitive people will not listen. The statement was loud and clear and for a united country, we must listen to each other,” Koech said.

Four petitions

Most of the leaders in the Karen meeting were elected MPs and a number of governors who made certain demands which they want met before they support the Bill.

Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa told the Sunday Standard after the meeting, they had given the country a value-added No.

Ruto yesterday reiterated the calls for a consensus before the referendum document is finalised. “We should not be in a hurry to slam the door on proposals. With all the due respect, I request that we relook some issues before we finalise this process,” Ruto told mourners at the burial of Matungu MP Justus Murunga.

On the legal platform, the team has prepared about 20 possible cases. Already, there are four petitions in different courts challenging the amendment Bill.

But Murathe is not reading mischief in these strategies. “You cannot injunct a popular initiative. We are now done with the signatures and moving to the verification, everything is going as planned,” he said.

Thirdway Alliance is the latest entrant into the legal play, challenging the legality of the amendment Bill and wants the court to stop the process, pending hearing and determination of the suit.

The party says the use of state machinery to collect signatures amounts to it being a government Bill and not a citizen-driven constitutional amendment that would qualify as a popular initiative.

Other cases in court are those by Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, two county assembly speakers from Nandi and Kericho and another by activist David Ndii and four other activists.

Through lawyer Nelson Havi, the activists want the court to declare that five chapters of the 2010 Constitution –  One, Two, Four, Nine and 10 – cannot be altered or changed through amendments, either by Parliament or popular initiative. 

Speakers Joshua Kiptoo (Nandi) and Dominic Rono (Kericho) sought the advisory of the Supreme Court on whether the county assemblies can amend and incorporate their views on the Bill before it is presented to Parliament and to Kenyans.

Paul Mwangi, the BBI Task Force joint secretary, yesterday said the Judiciary has become the latest frontier for the anti-reforms crusaders.

“The proponents of the anti-BBI are viewing the Judiciary as an ally and interested party and therefore are enjoying philosophical parity. They are hoping that in their self-interest, the courts can play in their favour,” Mwangi said.

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said Ruto’s allies were using every trick to frustrate the process after they failed to control it.