Deputy President William Ruto could find himself in familiar territory of 2010, as the push for a referendum on constitutional change picks momentum.
The proposal by Ndia MP George Kariuki to have counties reduced to twelve and the number of senators to 24, is among changes being pushed by various leaders.
Mr Karuiki’s proposal comes hot on the heels of the revelation by Opposition leader Raila Odinga that they agreed with President Uhuru Kenyatta to conduct a referendum next year.
While presiding over the official launch of the Unaitas Sacco Kisumu branch, Raila said the constitutional change was among the deals he hammered with the President in the March 9 handshake.
“We agreed with the President that as soon as the Building Bridges task force finishes collecting views across the country, the buck will stop with the people through another vote to address the longstanding issues in the country,” Raila said.
This revelation could muddy the political waters and put the DP in a political confrontation with his boss and Raila given that Ruto has publicly opposed changes to the 2010 Constitution.
Ruto is Kenyatta’s heir apparent and he is unflinchingly focused and has trained his eye on the presidency and any proposals for the Constitution change is a distraction for him.
The DP’s allies have also come out strongly to oppose the push for constitutional change that could create the premier’s position, scrap the Senate and Woman Representative positions.
Other suggestions include the reduction of the number of counties and constituencies.
Yesterday, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, an ally of the DP, said calls for the referendum are a distraction to the development agenda and a clandestine way of creating positions for some people.
“We should not pose our development agenda for the sake of proving seats for others, we must remain focused on the Big Four and uniting Kenyans not creating offices for certain people,” said Duale.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen dismissed crusaders of the referendum as political losers seeking to ascend to power.
“Even if they use constitutional change, if they were to lose they will still be defeated,” said Mr Murkomen.
Recently, clerics, civil society, representatives of youth and women in a strongly worded communique said the country was ripe for constitutional reforms.
The Ufungamano II group is pushing for reforms to ‘dignify’ the opposition by enabling the runners up in the presidential election to serve as the Leader of Official Opposition in the National Assembly while the running mate becomes the Leader of Official Opposition in the Senate.
“Amend the Constitution to reduce the number of Members of National Assembly to 209, comprising of members elected from 150 constituencies, 47 Women Representatives, and 12 Special members,” read the Ufungamano II arrangement.
In February, Tiaty MP Kassait Kamket drafted a constitutional amendment Bill seeking to establish a single seven-year ceremonial presidency and introduction of an Executive Prime Minister’s post.
Kamket also called for the scrapping of the Deputy President position.
He further proposed a ceremonial role of Head of State and a symbol of national unity who should be elected once he/she attained the age of 50 and should not hold any political party post.
Just like the clerics under Ufungamano II, Kamket proposed that the Prime Minister should be the Leader of Government Business in the House and the position of Leader of the Opposition created.
“The Bill seeks to amend the Constitution to limit the president to a ceremonial role of Head of State and a symbol of national unity,” reads the Bill.
Already, political lines are being drawn with those pro and against the Constitution change coalescing together.
In 2010, Ruto pushed for the rejection of the new Constitution and claimed it would be expensive to implement. “Ruto told them then, they did not pay attention, we should now soldier on and find an appropriate time in the future, the 2010 Constitution is still young to be changed,” said Kipkelion MP Hillary Kosgei.
Jubilee secretary general Raphael Tuju told the Sunday Standard that they had not discussed constitutional changes and were only focused on the Big Four agenda, building bridges and the fight against corruption.
“When the matter is canvassed in the party as the secretary general I will then communicate to the country,” said Tuju.
On his part ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said, the party leader Raila had advised that the building bridges group would inform the party position.
Notably, ODM was birthed by the 2005 constitution referendum.
Given the experiences of 2005 and the past referendum, major political rearrangement will likely arise if it comes to pass.
Already, Jubilee and ODM leaders have differed on the constitutional change.
Kilifi North MP Owen Baya said clamour for constitutional change is populist and meant to give some people a political lifeline.
“We are not listening to sober arguments about what needs to be changed, what has come out prominently is creation of more positions of power, that is defeatist because it does not help the country move forward,” said Baya.
However, ODM party chair and National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi has insisted that the country is ripe for change.
“There seems to be agreement across the board, people are saying this government is too heavy while some observe that there is over representation. People should come out directly and say we need constitutional reforms,” said Mr Mbadi.
Jubilee leaders are divided over calls for constitutional change. Whereas Senate deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki is in support he says the timing should be proper to avoid being clouded by politics.
“We need to approach it in the manner that will ensure that it is not controlled by the politics of 2022, there is a heavy burden on the positions in the executive and over-representation in the Parliament that we must confront,” said Kindiki.
But Jubilee Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali, believes the change should come soon to stop the winner-take-all system.
“That will be the way to go if we are to get Kenya back on track. Otherwise, we’ll be blaming whoever becomes President. The 2010 Constitution is expensive to fund, we need to re-look rather than continuously blaming whoever becomes president,” he observed.
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