Punguza Mizigo bolt makes case for dialogue on the referendum

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Thirdway Alliance leader Ekuro Aukot pulled off a stunning coup in getting his Punguza Mizigo Constitutional amendment Bill past the first hurdle on the way to a referendum.

Getting more than one million signatures was no mean feat. This can be viewed from the perspective that at the August 2017 presidential elections, Dr Aukot managed a paltry 27,400 votes, just 0.18 per cent 15,593,050 votes cast.

At the repeat poll in October after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was invalidated by the Supreme Court, the Thirdway candidate got 21,333 votes. He improved his share of the total to 0.28 per cent, but in a depressed turnout of only 7,616,217 votes cast after the fresh poll was boycotted by the main opposition challenger Raila Odinga.

It may be instructive that when Mr Odinga’s then opposition coalition, Cord, pushed its own Okoa Kenya Constitutional amendment Bill in 2016, the effort came a cropper as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ruled that it did not reach the 1 million signatures required.

Dr Aukot lays claim to the title of official opposition leader after coming third in the repeat presidential election behind Mr Odinga whose name remained on the ballot despite the boycott. There was also the latter’s stunning turnaround in making his peace with President Kenyatta after initially refusing to recognise the outcome, launching a civil disobedience campaign and having himself controversially sworn-in as ‘People’s President’.

The fact, however, is that Dr Aukot runs a puny political outfit and hardly features on the radar of opposition leadership.

The total votes he got countrywide at the presidential elections could not win a parliamentary seat anywhere, and indeed his Thirdway Alliance does not boast a single representative in the National Assembly or Senate.

This is what makes such a stupendous feat garnering 1,222, 541 signatures without the support of a major ethnic-political alliance or religious and civil society movements.

He has upstaged the ‘main’ constitutional referendum push sponsored by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, opposition chief-turned ally, under the Building Bridges initiative.

He has stolen some of the thunder from Deputy President William Ruto’s ‘opposition’ troops within Jubilee primed to wage war against the Uhuru-Raila union.

No doubt Dr Aukot is the man of the moment, and has thrust himself powerfully onto the centre stage of national politics.

His referendum initiative is certain to intrude into the Uhuru-Ruto proxy wars fought via the Kieleweke-Tanga tanga factional conflicts in Jubilee around the presidential succession and whatever constitutional amendment proposals may come out of Building Bridges

After failing to make an impact at the 2017 elections, the aptly-named Thirdway has now established itself as an alternative to the feuding political heavyweights.

Dr Aukot, however, will find that the harder battles lie ahead. Securing support of a million plus voters attracted by the simple, people-friendly proposals of Punguza Mizigo is one thing; the selfish political classes looking out only for their own interests will be quite another challenge.

The initiative will now be sent to the County Assemblies, where it must win support of at least half the devolved units before moving to the next stage.

That is where it is likely to face the biggest hurdles, as MCA’s might weigh the constitutional amendment Bill on politics rather than content. In that regard the battle will be fought from higher-up as players on the national stage who initially ignored Dr Aukot are now taking notice and getting alarmed.

From both sides of the national political divide, it is already evident that otherwise combating troops from the Odinga and Ruto camps staking out positions for the 2022 elections are united in opposition to the Punguza Mizigo Bill.

None have offered cogent responses, but simply seem alarmed that such key proposals from a most unlikely source could have reached this stage.

Supporters of the Uhuru-Raila handshake are confused and worried that the Aukot initiative will complicate things ahead of the secretive Building Bridges proposals yet to be unveiled.

From the other side Dr Ruto’s faction is harshly dismissive, but some of his strategists see the Bill as a useful ruse that could be exploited to muddy the waters around competing constitutional amendment proposals.

The IEBC could also be in a quandary for it can hardly schedule two separate plebiscites within a short period of each other.

A way out might be a merger of the Punguza Mizigo and Building Bridges proposals. This would obviously call for the national dialogue so badly needed to ensure broad consensus instead of a divisive referendum.

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