Deputy President William Ruto on Friday retreated to his hardline stance on constitutional reforms, dismissing the push for a referendum as idle talk.
Separately, President Uhuru Kenyatta said leaders should focus on development instead of being preoccupied with succession politics and 2022 elections.
Ruto who was on a whirlwind tour of western Kenya said some leaders are more focused on changing the constitution than delivering their election manifestos.
“We need to focus on service delivery to the people. This ongoing rhetoric is idle talk and it should not be allowed to continue. The public is waiting for improved services,” he said.
His statement is adrift of what he said in Tharaka Nithi a week ago when he told those agitating for changes to the Constitution to agree on what they wanted included or removed and bring to the table because Jubilee was focused on implementing the Big Four agenda.
“We are not opposed to the referendum. Those calling for the change of Constitution through a referendum should agree on what to reduce or add and why, give us the date and assure Kenyans that they will accept the outcome of the referendum as they always oppose the results of every election,” Ruto said.
The President who was in Meru county on Friday said that Kenyans are not interested in 2022 politics. Instead, he said, they are more concerned about the steps leaders are taking to improve their wellbeing.
"Kenyans want to know what we are doing for them today, tomorrow, next week and next month to ensure they can put a plate of food on the table, access affordable healthcare, and a decent roof over their heads," he said
Uhuru was addressing the seventh annual Conference of Constitutional Commissions & Independent Offices at the Meru National Polytechnic.
Nasa leader Raila Odinga who signed a truce with Uhuru in March has recently said constitutional changes will be inevitable because “no one will stop an idea whose time has come”.
On the campaign trail for now Migori senator-elect Ochilo Ayako last week, Raila dismissed those opposed to the calls for a referendum “as cries of a frog that will not stop cattle from drinking water.”
Proponents of a referendum are yet to outline the changes needed to the constitution. However, over-representation, the size of government and dispersal of executive power have been listed as areas that need to be addressed by different groups.
Ruto said many leaders are currently focused on the referendum issue and had forgotten about their service to the people.
Speaking during the commissioning of the Teremi-Chwele-Nalondo water project in Bungoma, the DP said elected leaders owed the public efficient service delivery and a development agenda.
He repeated that the public had played its part by electing representatives they felt competent to offer solutions to the country’s problems.
“The people did their part and they made up their mind on who was best to lead them and now we owe them by ensuring that we deliver on our manifesto and not engaging in idle talk,” he said.
The Deputy President further said that he had no problem working with leaders of any political affiliation if it was for the benefit of the public.
Bungoma Senator, Moses Wetang’ula, said the referendum should not be used to resurrect political lives of certain leaders.
Wetang’ula said the public should be informed that there are two options to amending the current constitution and should it go the referendum way, it should not be used to help some people politically.
“There are two options available to us in this issue about the changing of this constitution. Article 256 says we can use Parliament and Article 257 through the referendum. The one that will go through people should not be used to support people to resurrect their careers,” he said.
Responding to calls by MPs present Wetangula said he was ready to work with Ruto on matters of politics when the time comes.
“Right now, we are working together with the Deputy President on matters of development because time for elections is over. But when the time comes, we will work together on matters of politics,” Wetangula said.
Bungoma governor Wycliffe Wangamati said they were ready to support a referendum, but not on grounds of creating positions or reducing the number of counties.
Kimilili MP Chris Wamalwa said a parliamentary initiative or a popular vote should be used to audit the current Constitution to establish where changes should be made.
“But we will not allow some people to take advantage of calls for a referendum to amend the Constitution to get positions through the back-door,” Wamalwa said.
Wamalwa, however, said the timing was suspect as it was aimed at blocking the Deputy President from ascending to the presidency in 2022.
“Why is it that when it is about to be the turn of the Deputy President to take over from President Uhuru Kenyatta when his term comes to an end in 2022, we start calling for change of the Constitution?’ Wamalwa posed.
He said Ruto would get support from Kenyans because he has demonstrated that he can deliver.
“I am sure Kenyans will support their fellow “hustler” because he has demonstrated that he has what it takes to take the country to the next level of prosperity,” said MP Wamalwa.
He added that the Luhya community with the biggest voting bloc should support Mr Ruto in 2022 “so that we become part of the next government.”
Ruto said leaders should forget their political differences and take a common stand on matters of development.
“We don’t want politics based on tribalism and division. We should now focus our energies on matters of development because time for political competition is over,” said Mr Ruto.
The DP said he would continue to work with western leaders including Wetangula in addressing challenges facing people in the region.
“I am ready to work with Mr Wetangula on matters of development but when time for politics comes, we will know what to do,” said Mr Ruto.
MPs Moses Injendi (Malava) and Ben Washiali (Mumias) told Luhya leaders including Wetangula to support Ruto for the top seat come 2022, saying the community alone cannot clinch the presidency without support of other Kenyans.
Webuye West MP Dan Wanyama told the President to be wary of calls to amend the Constitution because they were diversionary tactics to frustrate the implementation of the Big Four agenda.
Ruto also addressed wananchi in Mumias, Kakamega county, before commissioning the Kaimosi Friends Teachers Training College in Vihiga county.
He later held a meeting in Matungu constituency where former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale said he would rally Luhyas to support his 2022 presidential bid.
Separately Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the referendum issue was coined to divert the attention of Jubilee from delivering the Big Four development agenda.
Koech, a close ally of the DP said Raila’s intention is to create political confusion in the country and backed the President and the DP on their stand on referendum.
However, Churchill Suba, the convener of the Civil Society Group and the National Society Congress dismissed opponents of the referendum saying the country should take advantage of the handshake to fix governance problems.