Jubilee moves to ‘take over’ referendum
Kenya: The Jubilee coalition now says it is ready to face the Opposition CORD in a referendum, and is crafting strategies to shift the vote to advance its agenda.
In a move that could complicate matters for former Prime Minister Raila Odinga-led initiative, Jubilee announced it would go ahead with the vote, but move to the Supreme Court seeking a ruling on certain issues relating to the referendum, which points to a possible legal tussle.
The strategy comes in the backdrop of a warning to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling coalition that CORD’s referendum could easily sail through if it went ahead to collect one million signatures and move toward a vote. The warning was sounded by a Jubilee think-tank.
In a dramatic change in tack that was seen by CORD MPs as a ploy to hijack the referendum, key figures in Jubilee said yesterday they were also identifying issues they would like addressed in a referendum.
Jubilee Majority Leader Aden Duale said a think-tank composed of top lawyers, former policy makers and researchers, among others, is preparing the questions the coalition will be presenting for consideration for a referendum.
“We are ready for this referendum, when time comes for presenting questions Jubilee will present questions. As we speak, our think-tank is busy looking at that. I can also confirm that we shall soon be going to the Supreme Court to seek interpretation on various issues related to the referendum,” he said.
Duale added: “Part of what we shall seek guidance on is whether the county assemblies can actually amend the Referendum Bill. You know after everybody has presented their questions, different assemblies will approve different questions differently. What happens, for instance, if a total of 24 county assemblies approve only Jubilee-generated questions and reject CORD-generated questions?” he posed.
The announcement marked a sharp change in Jubilee, which has engaged in a war of words with CORD over calls for a referendum. Raila’s team is slated to start collecting a million signatures in support of the opinion vote on Wednesday next week. It has already selected a committee of experts to spearhead the initiative, led by chairman Paul Mwangi.
CORD, which is led by Odinga, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula has said key matters include electoral issues including the disbandment of the IEBC, enhancing security, inclusivity and equality and fighting corruption. Other questions are on devolution and land reform.
A document prepared by Jubilee political strategists suggest the Government must come up with quick strategies that would insulate the Jubilee administration from embarrassment, saying CORD could have it easy in case of a referendum.
“A political amendment to the Constitution by popular initiative is a dangerous proposition for any incumbent administration. It is relatively easy for the sponsors to choose an exciting and popular position which millions of Kenyans would rally behind. Once the sponsors have a large section of the people behind them all that is required is to galvanise a majority of the county assemblies to back the proposal,” the think tank led by Jasper Mbiuki wrote in a document titled “Calls for Referendum: Mere Rhetoric or Real Threat?” The new announcement appeared to have been informed by this realisation. But just a day after CORD said it had identified key questions, Duale said Jubilee now wants to introduce and push through county assemblies certain questions while trying as much as possible to whip such counties to reject questions sponsored by CORD.
One leader said: “You see, there are various dynamics in county assemblies. In a county like Machakos, CORD cannot claim to have the support of majority of the MCAs. So are several other counties CORD coalition seems to believe to be their own. We shall carry the day in those counties.”
Duale said that after lengthy consultations, Jubilee have decided wait for collection of signatures to be complete before going public with its next cause of action.
He added: “We will front our questions. CORD is only using this to remain relevant but what happens if we successfully front a question that limits the age of presidential candidates to 65 among other things. We want the referendum to come and Jubilee will reveal its strategy going forward.”
Senate Majority leader Prof Kithure Kindiki said Jubilee was no scared of the referendum, but did not give much details.
Kindiki said: “We can’t force our governors to be with us but if they choose to go against the party position then there are political consequences that go with that.”
But CORD member and Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo dismissed the new move by Jubilee saying it is only meant to threaten CORD from moving ahead with the push for a referendum.
“I think you know you can apply a threat by pushing something you don’t like; I think they want to steal the thunder from us,” he said.
“But I can tell you that even in Parliament there is some softening of heart. People seem to be saying let’s put our question but we need a referendum, that’s what I see by way of body language. The body language of MPs seems to be moving towards that direction,” said Gumbo.
But Gem MP Midiwo said given that the Deputy President William Ruto opposed the referendum, he should take this opportunity to ask the questions he wanted addressed.
“I think they are saying they are supporting because they know the mood on the ground. Those questions only have a “Yes” answer. The mood on the ground is for a referendum.”
Midiwo said that the question CORD will be presenting touches on matters affecting the common person directly and that his coalition is convinced that Kenyans will support the referendum.
“We will ask people the questions we want, we want power to go to the counties, governors must be checked in some way; counties must get more money, and we don’t want people who control the amount of money that governors are controlling to have security.”
Senate Majority Whip Beatrice Elachi however said Jubilee would be proposing questions they feel requires attention.
“You see, CORD have insisted on a referendum and to be honest, this is an opportunity for Jubilee to also ask questions. What I want to assure you is that when and if we get to that point, Jubilee too will throw in questions and then we shall let Kenyans decide. If they think they can’t wait for the right time to start asking for a referendum, basi twende njia hiyo tuone ni maswali gani wakenya watapitisha na ni gani watayakataa.