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High stakes for political kingpins over MCAs’ vote on BBI

By Moses Nyamori | January 31st 2021

A section of MCAs from Murang'a, Kiambu, Kajiado, Embu and Machakos counties. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Political kingpins are facing an acid test in influencing the decision of county assemblies on the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

The voting pattern by the MCAs is likely to be a pointer to leaders’ popularity, especially party bosses who have publicly endorsed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

It would also be a referendum of sorts on Deputy President William Ruto’s influence and whether he has gained ground in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard of Mt Kenya.

Ruto’s response to the initiative has been lukewarm with his allies openly questioning its timing as the country grapples with poor economy worsened by effects of Covid-19.

The constitutional changes being championed by President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga have received the backing of Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula.

The leaders will be under pressure to ensure counties in their strongholds pass the referendum Bill.

Uhuru and Raila are expected to deliver assemblies in Mt Kenya, Nyanza, Western and Coast that are perceived to be under their grip while Kalonzo will be expected to deliver three counties of Lower Eastern – Kitui, Machakos and Makueni.

A rejection of Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 by Rift Valley counties will be a sign of Ruto’s influence in the region since he has expressed reservations about the changes.

Some leaders yesterday said those supporting the Bill have to prove their influence by ensuring counties in their areas endorse it.

But others said the decision by the assemblies would be influenced by other factors beyond control of the regional kingpins.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr expects the assemblies in Lower Eastern to pass the Bill despite some misgivings in Kitui on the additional constituencies proposed in BBI.

He said the acceptance or rejection will most likely follow the existing political formations, adding that the assemblies’ decision may not provide a clear picture of the influence of the kingpins, but the actual vote at the referendum.

Openly support

“The actual vote and not the assemblies’ decisions will determine the influence of the regional kingpins. They will be hard pressed to deliver numbers. Mt Kenya will similarly be under the same pressure now that it appears that Tangatanga have some level of influence,” said Kilonzo Jnr.

Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju said MCAs were major beneficiaries of the proposed changes and were not likely to reject the Bill on the basis of influence of regional kingpins.

“This BBI creates ward fund and the beneficiaries are the MCAs. If they vote against it, who will they be voting against?,” said Tuju.

“I don’t see any obstacles in the way of BBI. We have seen this kind of threats and grandstanding from certain quarters, but when it comes to the wire they dissipate. We have seen this kind of scenario in the Senate and National Assembly,” he added.

MPs Ben Momanyi (Borabu), Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja), Ayub Savula (Lugari) and Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri) said it was time for party leaders to deliver to show their influence.

“Indeed, the Bill presents a big test to the leadership of parties that have come out openly to support the BBI. They must strive to deliver at their respective county assemblies. Obviously, if one truly supports the BBI, the immediate task is to rally the home county assembly to pass the bill,” said Wandayi.

He is optimistic that assemblies under ODM’s control will adopt the Bill, adding: “It becomes a referendum on Ruto to determine how influential he is across the country. If he is able to influence Mt Kenya assemblies, then he can claim that he has influence in the region.”

Savula explained that a loss for party leaders would mean a vote of no confidence in their leadership. He said the pattern will give a glimpse into the voting pattern at the referendum as well as in the 2022 polls.

“This thing is going to determine who is the kingpin in each region. If it fails in your area, it means you are either unpopular or you don’t support the Bill,” he said.

He added: “If Ruto loses assemblies in Rift Valley, it means he would have lost the support of the region. He has also claimed to have influence in Mt Kenya. We want to see that based on how the assemblies will vote. Naturally this will be a litmus test to tell who commands where and will have implications for the 2022 polls.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta interacts with MCAs from Central Kenya region at Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri County.

Ruto’s reservations

But Aldai MP Cornelly Serem said it was unfair to reduce the decision of the MCAs into a supremacy battle between regional kingpins.

The lawmaker noted that Ruto has not told any assemblies to oppose the Bill, but has expressed his reservations on some of the clauses contained in the document.

“Ruto has not advised anybody to oppose the BBI, he has basically raised his reservations. So to reduce it to a contest will be unfair,” said Serem.

“We don’t want a contest; we just want to ask the MCAs to look at the issues objectively,” he added.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany called on the assemblies to listen to what the public is saying when considering the Bill.

“Kenyans have already made up their minds on this document; what they are now waiting for is the opportunity to express it at the ballot. The feeling is that this document is bad,” said Kositany.

Political analyst Edward Kisiangani believes that the assemblies may be coerced into taking a particular position, thus may not reflect the actual influence by the leaders.

“It may not reflect on the pattern of voting at the referendum because at that stage it would now be an individual.”

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