Kenya split over calls to change law before 2022

Saturday October 6 2018

Raila Odinga and William Ruto

Opposition leader Raila Odinga (right) insists on referendum while Deputy President William Ruto opposes it. PHOTOS | NMG 

The EastAfrican
By The EastAfrican
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Mounting calls for a referendum to change the Kenyan Constitution in order to rearrange the executive structure, strengthen devolution and fix election related conflicts have divided political leaders down the middle.

While opposition leader Raila Odinga insists that the country must hold a referendum, Deputy President William Ruto is opposed to it, saying it would put the country in perpetual election mode. President Uhuru Kenyatta remains ambivalent on the issue.

A referendum would serve as a test run for the 2022 presidential election, with all indications being that Mr Ruto would lead those opposed to the constitutional amendments.

The top leadership of President Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Party — leader of the majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale and leader of the majority in the Senate Kipchumba Murkomen — are also opposed to a referendum.

A Bill before Parliament seeks to amend the Constitution to create the positions of a prime minister and president as a way of diffusing tension during elections.

The Bill was brought to the House in February by the MP for Tiaty Kassait Kamket. It seeks to create a ceremonial president who will be in office for a single term of seven years and an executive prime minister elected by parliament.

Building Bridges

Meanwhile, a team put together under the Building Bridges Initiative — a result of the famous March 9 handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga — is collecting views from Kenyans.

Mr Odinga said recently that he had agreed with President Kenyatta in the March 9 MoU that when the Building Bridges Task Force is done with collecting views, a referendum be held to address longstanding governance issues.

Mr Odinga said Kenyans should not be stopped from fixing some of the problems ailing the country through constitutional change.

The opponents of the proposed constitutional change accuse Mr Odinga of taking advantage of the handshake with President Kenyatta to reintroduce the position of a prime minister in the Constitution.

Mr Murkomen said the referendum talk is the work of Mr Odinga, who wants to devise a system that will enable him to ascend to power.

In an effort to either enforce or scuttle the call for a referendum, various MPs are coming up with proposals for constitutional amendments in parliament, mainly to reduce the size of the executive and parliament.

Ndia MP George Kariuki proposed to have counties reduced from 47 to 12 and the number of senators to 24. The initiatives by political party Third Way Alliance and civil society seek to reduce the public wage bill, which takes the lion’s share of the country’s budget in the wake of increased taxes.

A group of civil society members known as the Ufungamano II is also pushing for constitutional amendments to reduce the number of MPs from 349 to 209, with 150 elected, 47 women representatives and 12 special members.

But, according to Mr Ruto and his allies, the debate on constitutional change comes at a time when the country is still recovering from the disputed 2017 elections and when Kenyans are more concerned with high taxation.

Religious leaders have also added their voice to the ongoing campaign to change the constitution, closing ranks with Mr Odinga to push for a review of the law to foster stability in the country.

At a national dialogue forum convened in Nairobi last month, religious leaders said essential constitutional and legal reforms should start immediately to provide for an executive that includes the president, deputy president, prime minister and two deputy prime ministers.

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