Why Raila’s party wants referendum

The Orange Democratic Movement is pushing for a referendum in the next six months on the back of planned countrywide meetings to consolidate views on the Building Bridges Initiative report.

Senate Minority Leader James Orengo said the party was pushing for a referendum either in June or July “in readiness for the 2022 elections”.

Mr Orengo said the proposed reforms must be subjected to a popular vote as they cannot merely be approved by Parliament or passed administratively because they touch on the structure of government.

Collecting views

The Constitution stipulates that amendments touching on the term of office of the president, functions of Parliament, structure of the devolved government and independence of the Judiciary must be subjected to a referendum.

The first report compiled by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) taskforce did not propose changes that would require a referendum.

But the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in its submissions to the team, pitched for a single-seven year presidential term and also lobbied for the introduction of regional governments. It remains to be seen if the party will revisit these proposals, which would require a referendum, in the second phase of collecting views.

The report, a product of the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, creates the position of prime minister, which has turned into a point of contention among politicians.

“Some of the recommendations need to go to the people. The referendum should be conducted not later than end of June or July in preparation for the 2022 elections,” Orengo told journalists in his office at Parliament Buildings yesterday.

But reacting to the suggestion of a referendum, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said this would not be possible this year. He also dismissed ODM’s planned countrywide meetings, likening them to “talkshops”.

The senator said the country should focus on solving problems identified in the BBI report and not re-opening the document, which he likened to “lamentations of Jeremiah”.

“I don’t think BBI should occupy a lot of our time …. It is not possible to hold a referendum in the next six months. The earliest we can do it is in December.

Truthfully speaking, there will be no referendum this year,” said Mr Murkomen.

“If it took us 20 years to go to a referendum in 2010, do you think it will be easy to agree on issues and have a referendum this year? Kenya does not need a referendum to solve the problems we have.”

ODM will hold its first consultative meeting in Kisii this Friday, bringing together governors and stakeholders from the Nyanza region. A second meeting is scheduled for January 18 in Kakamega.

In December, the president extended the term of the BBI team, but the extension is yet to be gazetted.

Orengo said the planned meetings are part of the second phase of the BBI review process.

“There is going to be another meeting in Kakamega. This is a national process. In the Friday meeting, the people of Nyanza will come together to develop resolutions to be presented to the BBI committee. This is part of the second phase of the process that involves public participation,” said Orengo.

Follow suit

He asked the president to gazette the extension of the term of the BBI team.

“The second phase will commence actively when the committee is gazetted. The president has not gazetted the renewal of its term,” Orengo said.

Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri added that the Friday meeting would be funded by the Sh10 billion BBI kitty.

“No money will be spent by the county government. We are happy that Western region has followed suit and believe that the rest of the country will do the same,” said Prof Ongeri.

The BBI report has divided politicians down the middle, with some expressing fears that the second phase is designed to extend the president’s hold on power.

Last week, Kandara MP Alice Wahome termed it Uhuru’s special-purpose vehicle to become prime minister.

Orengo warned against politicisation of the BBI report, saying a referendum can be held even without a new referendum law, citing the 2005 and 2010 votes.

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