Deputy President William Ruto has fashioned a strategy to either completely scuttle the referendum or neutralise the political consequences of the plebiscite.
Publicly, Ruto is pushing for consensus on contentious Building Bridges Initiative proposals, which he says will avert a divisive referendum.
But what will his hustler loyalists say if he joins the ‘dynasties’?
Behind the scenes, his associates are trooping to court with prayers that have the potential of throwing into disarray the entire process.
On Wednesday morning, Ruto is expected to host at least 150 MPs at his Karen residence to discuss BBI and adopt a common position.
Speaking in Nakuru county on Tuesday the DP said it’s still possible to achieve consensus even after the signatures collection was launched.
“We must not have winners and losers. We can fashion a win-win and that is possible and it will be possible. I am very confident we will do so together,” the DP said.
He spoke during the burial service of Wanjiku Ngunjiri, the mother of Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri.
In an apparent attack on ODM leader Raila Odinga, Ruto said there are politicians dying to turn the referendum into a political contest.
“We have seen the ugly side of divided people and there are politicians, even on this issue of BBI, who are looking on how to divide people into camps so that they compete for certain outcomes. No. Let us look for a way to have all of us united. What will it benefit you to divide us to create enemies when we can agree?” he asked.
Ruto’s think tanks believe his stand on the BBI could have implications for his 2022 presidential bid, with the referendum coming hardly a year to the General Election.
With political heavyweights backing the referendum, there are fears in Ruto’s camp that leading a ‘No’ campaign could isolate him and set him against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard.
It could also drain him financially before the presidential contest.
It is not clear if Uhuru and Raila will accept further amendments to the BBI Bill. It appears to be closed except for minor tweaks.
However, a non-contested referendum would neutralise any political consequences for the DP.
Nonetheless, Ruto’s associates are seeking to scuttle the referendum bid through the courts. There’s talk of mass protests and a boycott.
The latest to file a petition in the Supreme Court is Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana.
Kibwana, who has pledged to oppose any attempts to amend the 2010 Constitution, has been working closely with Ruto in recent months.
In his petition, the governor wants the Supreme Court to determined if a state officer can use public resources to promote a popular initiative to review the supreme law of the land.
The governor says a constitutional review through a popular initiative cannot be driven by government, state officers, or its organs. Or local chiefs and their assistants.
Doing so, he said, would lead to wanton wastage of public funds by state officers promoting the initiative.
The county chief is also seeking a determination on whether one Bill containing proposed amendments can amend several issues in the Constitution.
According to Kibwana, under the Constitution amendments like the ones being pushed under the BBI Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 must be limited to a single issue – not omnibus legislation.
This, Kibwana says, would ensure that the authority to amend the Constitution is not abused and does not degenerate into a total overhaul.
Clarity, Kibwana argues, will enable the public to understand which issues are being amended so they can freely exercise their will on whether to support or oppose the separate amendments.
“It makes it easy for the public to understand what issue is proposed to be amended and for the people to freely exercise their will on whether to support the amendment without being confused about having to choose between too many issues,” Kibwana said.
An earlier petition was filed in the High Court by five activists led by economist David Ndii.
Ndii, a former Raila strategist, has been publicly accused by insiders within the civil society of recruiting for Ruto.
Lawyer Makau Mutua accused Ndii of attempting to convince the Kenya Human Rights Commission to work with Ruto.
In their petition, through lawyer Nelson Havi, they want the court to declare that five chapters of the 2010 Constitution – One, Two, Four, Nine and 10 – cannot be altered or changed through amendments, either by Parliament or popular initiative.
They argue these chapters form the foundation of the country and should not be altered.
Some of the chapters are identified for radical amendments through the BBI.
Ruto has been under immense pressure from his allies to oppose the BBI. Some of his cohorts on Tuesday trashed the constitutional amendment process in his presence.
Nominated MP David Sankok said it is meaningless to amend the Constitution, which is yet to be fully implemented.
He said the majority of the problems the country is facing are the lack of political goodwill to implement the supreme law.
“Why are we changing the Constitution? No one is telling us this or that article in the Constitution is bad. Women have been calling for implementation of the two-thirds gender rule and and we the people with disabilities have been asking for implementation of Article 54 . Youth have been asking for jobs,” he said.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said President Uhuru should give priority to the coronavirus pandemic and the battered economy, not a plebiscite that will create more jobs and a Parliament of as many as 550 members.
“The money that is being diverted for a referendum should be channeled to buy hospital beds and oxygen for patients,” he said.
Rigathi, who is a close ally of the DP, faulted the manner in which the signature collection is being carried out. At least one million valid signatures are required to begin the referendum process.
He said Kenyans have not read the Bill, nor has civic education been carried out. The government is forcing the Bill down the throats of unwilling Kenyans.
“You cannot sign something that you have not read. Let them bring it first and then we read.
“Even the proposal to increase positions for women is good but you don’t need to reserve the seats for them. Let them stand for election as others have done. If they have good plans for development, they will be elected,” he said.
Gilgil MP Martha Wangari said Kenyans should be given an opportunity to vote clause by clause, issue by issue, noting that there are good things in the Bill while others may not be popular.
“Proposals such as creation of more constituencies I support but there are some things I don’t like. Therefore, Kenyans should be given an opportunity to decided case-by-case. That is how we are going to move forward together without leaving others,” she said.
Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi questioned how the unity deal through the handshake between Uhuru and Raila was transformed into a referendum review process.
“It’s intention was to unite the country but how did it end up being a constitutional amendment? BBI is not bad but it is coming with a huge burden for Kenyans. Kenyans should be warned.
“As an MP I will continue earning my huge salary at the expense of taxpayers,” he said.
Molo MP Kimani Kuria said there is still a window of opportunity to fine-tune the Bill, saying Parliament will be required to pass key legislation to make it workable.
“There has been a misinformed narrative that this document is final. There is a schedule at the end that there are pieces of legislations that need to be passed by Parliament.
“This discussion of it as a finality is false. There is room for us to discuss and debate what is good for us as a country,” he said.
Soy MP Caleb Kositany, his Turbo counterpart Janet Sitienei and Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika said the BBI process has been rushed and the country may end up with bad laws that will haunt Kenyans.