CORD shifts gears on referendum as reality sinks in-Promoting political ambitions


Nairobi, Kenya: Criticised for politicising the push for a referendum, CORD has quickly shifted gears to accommodate players from all political persuasions.

It has also softened its stance on the Isaak Hassan-led Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The Standard on Sunday has reliably established that CORD co-principals, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Senate Minority Leaders Moses Wetang’ula, have all agreed to take the back seat “and participate at equal footing with the rest of Kenyans”.

The move is persuaded by an avalanche of protests from would-be supporters of the process, following the move by the Raila-Kalonzo-Wetang’ula trio to promote their political ambitions and that of their coalition in recent rallies.  Head of the CORD secretariat Norman Magaya explains that three leaders are not owners of the referendum push but only momentary leaders of the process. According to Magaya, the only requirement for one to be part of the process is being a Kenyan, “who appreciates the myriad challenges faced by the people and one who is willing to confront the same”.

And National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale is rather sarcastic about the development, congratulating CORD for finally “seeing the light” to comply with the law. “Initially they wanted to meet the President through unofficial structures, which they termed dialogue. But we are now glad they have opted to respect the law by choosing the referendum route. This is provided for under Article 257 of the Constitution and it means they have submitted themselves to legal organs of Parliament and county governments,” says Duale.

Guarded lot

Although some, like Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua and Chairman of Council of Governors Isaac Ruto have openly supported the process, they have appeared apprehensive about joining the Raila outfit.

“This is not Raila’s crusade but rather a project of the Kenyan people. The secretariat of this process has accordingly set up various organs, including the Council of Advisors and another for political players, where my sister, Karua, and many others can comfortably fit and make their contribution,” the CORD leader revealed to The Standard on Sunday.

Incidentally, IEBC, whose commissioners CORD wants to kick out, must be at the centre of any referendum process – from receiving the paperwork of the popular initiative to verifying the one million signatures to execute the referendum.

Initially the pro-referendum politicians said they would lobby to have the referendum executed by an independent body appointed by the United Nations or the African Union. But reality seems to have dawned on them that the Constitution envisages the local electoral body to carry out the exercise.

Now the pro-referendum team says IEBC’s role should be limited only to supervisory. This position, according to  Magaya, is persuaded by constitutional provisions to the effect that IEBC “may conduct and supervise”. “Even then, we know they will be a major hindrance to the exercise and that is why we plan to collect about five million signatures, instead of one million as required by law. This is to give an allowance so that even if they do a thorough check with the view of knocking off as many signatures, we shall still hit the one million mark,” Magaya said.

The lawyer is, however, guarded as at what stage they will confront the IEBC question. In the meantime, he observes, CORD will comply with all the constitutional dictates and timelines and strike only at the right time. Nonetheless, the drive by CORD has generated heat and discomfort within government and the Jubilee Alliance. Only a couple of days ago, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku claimed that the Opposition was promising to dish parcels of land to Kenyans as a bait to acquire their signatures for the referendum. CORD, which is yet to kick off the exercise, has since dismissed the claims as “sheer panic”.

In a detailed internal memo, a team of lawyers led by Jasper Mbiuki advises the Jubilee leadership to take the referendum push seriously. In the communication titled, “Calls for Referendum: Mere Rhetoric or Real Threat?” Mbiuki observes exercising the power to amend the Constitution “is a relatively easy and inexpensive matter for even a modestly resourced person or group of persons. Once the signatures are in place all the sponsors need to do is to draft a Bill, which they could do with the assistance of a third-year university law student.”

The lawyers single out approval by County Assemblies as perhaps the hardest hurdle but point out that where the proposal is excitable to the populace, or boosts financial capabilities of County Governments, it is unlikely that it will flop.

And noting that the CORD initiative will distract the Government “from the business of governance while keeping the embers of CORD support alive”, the Mbiuki team advises Jubilee to accommodate governors in defeating the exercise. An attached appendix maps out perceived neutral counties like, Nairobi, Lamu, Trans Nzoia, Kajiado and Kakamega, where Jubilee can put up a fight to win them over to deny CORD support from at least 24 counties.

But Magaya points out that such an argument is merely academic as in practical terms such a political zoning approach cannot stand in the way of real “burning issues” confronted by Kenyans. Saying the popular initiative is unstoppable, Magaya said the Constitution is silent on whether the process can be defeated if majority county assemblies fail to endorse it.

Teething impediments

“We have given deep thought to this idea and are alive to a host of impediments, which we have found a way around. We know exactly what Kenyans need at this point in time and we shall give it to them. In the long run the will of the people shall prevail,” said the CORD secretariat boss.

Eliud Owalo, who was head of Raila’s presidential campaign, warns that political zoning of counties ahead of the referendum will polarise the country even further. Jubilee, he claims, wants to muddy the situation as an excuse to deter CORD from carrying out its countrywide campaigns.

“They want the Opposition to keep off politics till 2017 yet the issues being advanced by CORD as a basis for the referendum are of immense public interest than the prayer rallies they previously engaged in for three years, which were purely personal issues about ICC.  To me, Uhuru and Ruto have become a monument of blatant inconsistency and contradictions,” reacts Owalo, a Nairobi-based management consultant.

On IEBC, Duale questions: “Between the donkey and the cart, which one do they wish to deal with first?” Another hurdle envisaged by Duale is the fact that the CORD team is dependent on the National Assembly’s House committee for budget appropriation to allocate cash for the referendum. And he wonders how all these will be achieved with Raila belittling Parliament  and creating cracks within CORD at the Coast region after dropping of Kilifi North MP, Gideon Mung’aro as Minority Chief Whip.

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