The battle lines in the push for constitutional reforms have been drawn, with Deputy President William Ruto setting the stage for a ‘No’ campaign that could be his trump card for 2022 presidential campaigns.
The DP has emerged as the senior-most opponent to the changes being pushed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, in effect directly challenging the duo on any attempts to change the supreme law.
However, this will put him in a direct clash with his boss, and some allies of the President are already terming his move as insubordination, and have demanded the DP’s resignation immediately before or after the start of campaigns.
Last week, Uhuru made a passionate case for constitutional change and also spoke against “the paralysis of constitutional rigidity”.
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“Instead of a ceasefire document that enforces a zero-sum game in which the winner takes it all, the moment calls us to create a constitutional order that will long endure,” the President said.
But a defiant Ruto has laughed off the push to change the Constitution arguing that the public has more pressing needs.
“I don’t know what is being amended…to the best of my knowledge, this whole push is by leaders, not by the people. People at this moment are concerned about jobs, about their livelihoods,” Ruto said during an interview with a local television station.
Siaya Senator James Orengo has insisted that Ruto is not honest in his rejection of the changes.
“He (DP) says he supports (a referendum) but quickly says he does not support it if the agenda is about creating positions for the Opposition. It has nothing to do with positions; it is about making the systems better. He is not sincere,” Orengo says of Ruto’s divided support.
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As the Ruto confidants set the stage for the No campaign, Raila’s allies have called for the process to be expedited so that a referendum can be held in good time.
Ruto’s position mirrors his stance on constitutional changes in 2005 and 2010, which on both occasions ended up directly benefiting him. In 2005, Ruto joined the Orange team in opposing the Wako draft that was backed by former President Mwai Kibaki.
The ‘No’ team won, creating a crisis of confidence for President Kibaki in the disputed 2007 elections.
In 2010, Ruto rallied his strongholds in the Rift Valley and the clergy to oppose the current Constitution, and although he lost, it solidified his support in the run to the 2013 elections.
The proponents of the reforms have indicated that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) will culminate in a referendum that will change sections of the Constitution.
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Among the changes being pushed is the expansion of the Executive to create additional positions, which Ruto says will benefit a few “selfish” individuals.
This position is now suspected to be part of an elaborate political strategy aimed at winning a significant section of supporters and create momentum for his 2022 campaign, in similar fashion to 2005 and 2010.
Addressing members of the public after a service at African Inland Church (AIC) Pipeline in Embakasi South, Nairobi, on Sunday, Ruto said Kenya had bigger priorities than changing the Constitution and that should concern the leaders.
“The amendments to the Constitution should not be informed by political and personal interests. Those of us who have been privileged as leaders should be selfless and focus on offering solutions to the problems bedeviling our country,” he said.
His allies have also been on the warpath, with Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen categorically saying he will oppose a referendum.
The legislators have pledged to campaign against any constitutional amendments if the final report of the BBI does not address their concerns.
“If the final BBI report doesn’t capture the aspirations of the people of Kenya and a referendum to amend the Constitution is organised with a draft that limits the sovereign power of the people or creates tribal positions or undermines devolution, I will oppose it and will lead the ‘NO’ Team,” he tweeted.
BBI joint secretary Paul Mwangi in July said a referendum is inevitable if proposals made so far are to be implemented, affirming the fears of Ruto allies that the changes would be deep.
A day before the 10th anniversary of the Constitution, President Kenyatta said this was the right time to change the Constitution, adding that its very drafters had noted that it was a “work in progress”.
Raila has insisted that the country will have a referendum to change the Executive structure, devolution and a few other areas before the 2022 General Election.
His party last week organised a meeting for all its 47 county chairpersons’ committee to express full support for the BBI process and called for the process to be expedited.
“As a party, we have already recommended the reforming of IEBC. This should be done urgently to pave the way for a referendum,” party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the die is cast and it does not matter what the BBI contents are. He says the battle lines have been drawn with Uhuru and Raila on one side and Ruto on the other.
“Seen as a plan by the president and the ODM leader, it will be foolhardy to expect Ruto’s camp to support it. Whichever way one looks at it, the camps have taken sides and the battle lines are drawn,” says Bigambo.
Uhuru and Raila allies have not been left behind and have trained their guns on the deputy president for ‘fighting the president’. Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, says Ruto to blame for his own predicament accusing him of politicking even after the president asked him not to
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