MPs allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto held talks at the weekend to try reach a compromise on the referendum, with sources saying the discussions have a Friday deadline.
The high-level meetings aim to reach a consensus on the Building Bridges Initiative Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 before the referendum signatures are handed to the electoral commission on Friday to prepare for a plebiscite, the Nation learnt.
The consensus talks, which sources said ODM leader Raila Odinga is also aware about, have boiled down to three issues and DP Ruto’s camp has offered to collect fresh signatures should that become necessary as a consequence of accommodating their proposals: The number of MPs proposed in the Bill, changing of formula for the Equalisation Fund – a kitty to uplift neglected regions – and a push for multiple questions for the referendum.
Read: Ruto camp’s new strategy on referendum question
Dr Ruto’s team demanded that the number of MPs be reduced to a maximum of 504 and only six be nominated. The rest should be elected, including 47 woman representatives to sit in the National Assembly and 47 in the Senate.
Six nominated MPs
This is in addition to 360 constituency representatives in the National Assembly. According to one of the MPs, this would guarantee women 19 per cent representation as a start. Three of the six nominated MPs should also be women and the clause on women’s representation should be in place for only 15 years, the Tanga Tanga leaders propose.
On multiple questions for the referendum, the DP’s allies say the current Elections Act can be used to craft the questions as it provides for many questions. Alternatively, one of the referendum Bills in Parliament, especially the one by the Jeremiah Kioni-led Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, should be passed to provide for a question on each issue instead of a Yes or No vote.
But yesterday Mr Odinga ruled out the possibility of a multiple-question referendum. Speaking in Kisumu and Vihiga, he likened the push for multiple questions to a confusing school examination and challenged those behind the proposal to simply lead the No campaign.
The first meeting of MPs from the rival Jubilee camps happened on Sunday. Both groups first met separately before their two representatives held a meeting at Serena Hotel from 6pm.
A scheduled press conference that was to be held at the hotel was postponed “for more consultations.” Earlier, one of the MPs was reported to have met with the DP on the sidelines of a church function in Nairobi.
Asked if Mr Odinga was aware of the talks, Senate Majority Leader Irungu Kang’ata said: “I have informed ODM through Minority Leader James Orengo of the talks and they are fine with them.”
During the Sunday talks, Dr Ruto’s allies also said laws to implement the Equalisation Fund should be changed to make counties the focal point of disbursing the fund. The current draft by the government provides for sub-locations to be the focal point, which favours areas with high population. The counties model leans towards arid areas.
“We have no problem with that as long as the principle of one-man, one- shilling remains,” added Mr Kang’ata. But the Kieleweke team is reported to have pushed back, saying signatures had been collected and changing the Bill would mean going back to the people again.
Mr Kang’ata said his side would craft a response to the Tanga Tanga proposals after consulting both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, as discussions must be finalised before Friday, when the verified signatures are expected to be handed to the electoral commission.
“We are negotiating in good faith and we hope they are genuine and will not shift goalposts or add extra demands because most of their concerns were captured after revisions in the BBI 1, yet they remain lukewarm. We just want everyone on board,” said Mr Kang’ata.
He said they are considering going back to Parliament to resolve the issue of MPs.
“We are also in talks with the BBI team and legal experts to find out if we can go the legislative way to try to accommodate the Ruto team. We will communicate when we get a solution.”
For Mt Kenya leaders, the talks are to try avert a showdown that will be costly politically and financially for both Dr Ruto and the President.
If the referendum is held and the DP leads a No campaign and carries the day in Mr Kenyatta’s backyard, it will leave the President a lame duck with no political clout. If the region votes for BBI as advocated by Mr Kenyatta, it will expose Dr Ruto as a Rift- Valley leader that cannot command any following outside his home turf and shatter his projection of political invisibility of his hustler campaign.
For some of Dr Ruto’s allies, it is also a case of avoiding throwing the baby away with the bathwater. But not all his allies are buying the consensus drive. Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua insisted that the people do not want any talks that will lead to more positions for leaders.
“Some of us declined to attend the Sunday meetings because we are still talking of a bloated Parliament and more positions for leaders. Our people do not want that and we cannot force them,” said Mr Gachagua.
Dr Ruto has flip-flopped on his support to BBI, initially opposing it but lately, he has sent signs that he can support the initiative after his demands are met.
But his allies are split in the middle over the decision, making any stance by the DP a lose-lose proposition. The DP started mellowing after a meeting with President Kenyatta, which was followed by his trip to Dubai.