REFERENDUM POLITICS

Why Parliament is the next battlefront for BBI

Battle royal pitting anti--DP William Ruto forces against pro-handshake troops looms over BBI proposals

In Summary

• Ruto's brigade is opposed to the BBI, which they accuse of being used to expand the Executive to 'accommodate election losers through the backdoor'.

• The pro-handshake legislators allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila are expected to back the BBI proposals, in what could trigger a political showdown in Parliament.

Members of National Assembly and Senate during the opening of the 11th parliament. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
'AUGUST' HOUSE: Members of National Assembly and Senate during the opening of the 11th parliament. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
Image: FILE:

Parliament could be the next battlefront pitting anti-Deputy President William Ruto forces against pro-handshake MPs over proposals by the Building Bridges Initiative team.

The Yusuf Haji-led team has 30 days until the deadline to submit its report but the battle lines are already drawn between Ruto and Uhuru-Raila MPs.

The 14-member team is expected to make recommendations that could reconfigure the country's governance structure by reintroducing the post of a  powerful Prime Minister. It will be handed over to Uhuru and Raila for action amid reports that the team may not recommend for a referendum, as was widely expected.

 
 

Ruto's brigade is opposed to the BBI, which they accuse of being used to expand the Executive to 'accommodate election losers through the backdoor'.

The pro-handshake legislators allied to President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila are expected to back the BBI proposals, in what would trigger a showdown in Parliament.

Ruto allies say they will reject the final BBI report in toto because "it seeks to suit a few individuals' interests'.

On Thursday, Kimilili MP Didmas Barasa warned that enactment of the proposals would be a tall order without bipartisan backing.

“It will not be a walk in the park for the BBI report. We want the report tabled in Parliament, the only institution that can give the document some legal grounding,” Barasa said.

"No document should be pushed down the throats of Kenyans. We shall trash any proposals that seek to expand the Executive and create slots for some people."

Ex-Mukurweini MP Kabando Wa Kabando said BBI is a "political pregnancy with diverse expectations over the gender of the baby.

 
 

"Let's wait for the birth. We shall agree on the name of the child," he said.

Ruto on Tuesday demonstrated his control of the House after his allies in the National Assembly voted to pass a crucial bill on recruitment of IEBC commissioners.

MP's allied to the DP marshalled numbers and passed the IEBC (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which provides a mechanism of filling four vacancies at the commission.

Of 126 MPs who participated in the afternoon vote, 69 voted for the Bill while 56 rejected it.

The DP's troops also defeated an amendment bid to the Bill to overhaul the IEBC fronted by pro-handshake MPs led by Raila's pointman and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed.

Junet had sought to have IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and commissioners Boya Molu and Abdi Guliye removed from office to pave the way for the recruitment of a new team.

RAILA SETBACK

Raila could suffer a huge political haemorrhage if the BBI team fails to prescribe a referendum, despite his consistent assurances to his supporters that a plebiscite was on the cards.

The ODM leader has told his supporters to shun  Thirdway Alliance leader Ekuru Aukot's Punguza Mizigo Bill and wait for the BBI report, which he has claimed would recommend a referendum.

Ruto, on the other hand, has opposed the BBI and the Punguza Mizigo initiatives and plans to counter any attempts by the handshake team to use Parliament to amend the Constitution.

The DP is understood to be confident of almost full control in the 349-member National Assembly, raising the stakes for a face-off against Uhuru-Raila.

Ruto maintains a firm grip on his Rift Valley bedrock which has 75 constituencies. Out of this, his political nemesis and Kanu chairman Senator Gideon Moi (Baringo) controls less than 10 MPs.

The DP will also be relying on the considerable support he enjoys in the larger Kisii and Nyamira counties, although he will have to contend with Interior CS Fred Matiang'i's growing influence in the region.

The CS has been holding strategic meetings with MPs from the region in what is seen as a plan to counter the DP's entry in Kisii and Nyamira counties.

On Thursday, South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro said Ruto's allies will shoot down the BBI report if it proposes an expanded Executive.

“We are ready for that report. I can assure you that as the DP's friends across political parties, we shall not support a report that will only serve a few people,”  Osoro said.

National Assembly Majority Whip and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali, an ally of the DP, said the report should not have a predetermined political objective.

“We hope it will not be a report about giving this or that some position. For BBI to look credible, it must capture the real feelings and views of Kenyans without a predetermined mind,” Washiali said on Thursday.

RUTO'S SUPPORT

Kisii and Nyamira counties have 13 constituencies and Ruto has the support of at least half of the MPs.

These include Osoro, Alfer Miruka (Bomachoge Chache), Shadrack Mose (Kitutu Masaba), Vincent Kemosi,(West Mugirango), Innocent Obiri (Bobasi) Ezekiel Machogu (Nyaribari Masaba) and Oroo Oyioka (Bonchari).

Others are Nyaribari Chache's Richard Tong'i, North Mogirango MP Joash Nyamoko and Nyamira Woman Representative Jerusha Momanyi.

The DP will also be relying on support from some MPs from the Coast, although Raila has immense influence in the region. The six coastal counties have 26 constituencies.

Some of the MPs allied to Ruto include Nyali's Mohamed Ali and Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa.

Those who have been working with Ruto include Badi Twalib (Jomvu), Sharif Ali (Lamu East), Gertrude Mbeyu (Kilifi), Benjamin Tayari (Kinango), Ali Mbogo (Kisauni), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Owen Baya (Kilifi North), Stanley Muthama (Lamu West), Paul Katana (Kaloleni) and Ali Wario (Garsen).

However, Ruto is likely to face challenges in Northeastern, where his now-defunct URP swept most of the constituencies in the 2013 polls.

Leaders from the region led by National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale have said they will support a referendum if it prescribes a parliamentary system to end the marginalisation of the region.

Northeastern and Upper Eastern have 24 constituencies.

It will also not be a walk in the park in Western as the handshake is supported by ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya's Moses Wetangula.

Musalia and Wetangula's parties have 26 MPs in total.

Ruto's key footsoldiers from the region include Washiali, Barasa and Ikolomani MP's Bernard Shinali, among others.

Jubilee won four seats in Kakamega and Bungoma counties in the 2017 General Election.

In Central Kenya, the President's backyard, politicians are split between Tangatanga which is allied to Ruto and Kieleweke, which supports the handshake.

Ruto's lieutenants include Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa, Kiharu's Ndindi Nyoro, Kandara 's Esther Wahome and Laikipia Woman Rep Catherine Waruguru, among others.

The majority of MPs from the region are behind Uhuru. The DP, however, enjoys considerable support in Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi counties, which have 12 constituencies combined.

Ukambani region is under the grip of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

Kalonzo has endorsed the handshake and is likely to whip his MPs to support the BBI proposals.

In Nairobi county, the MPs are split right down the middle. The DP's frenetic harambees at the invitation of MPs have been seen as a strategy to maintain his grip on them to counter the handshake.

PARLIAMENT

There is a debate on whether the report should be tabled in Parliament or not.

A key parliamentary committee that would ordinarily be tasked with reviewing the Constitution has warned that the BBI report could face a Herculean uphill task.

“I am cautioning Kenyans that trying to amend the Constitution, even when starting a popular initiative, outside the representatives of the people (Parliament) is most likely going to fail. BBI recommendations do stand a chance, if routed through Parliament,” Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni said.

He also termed the public hearings conducted by the handshake team before retreating to write its report as “illegal.”

The task force traversed all the 47 counties collecting views on political challenges facing the country but Kioni said the meetings were not legal public participation sessions.

Former Cabinet Minister Franklin Bett on Thursday said he hoped the final report by the BBI will be tabled in Parliament for ratification.

“Parliament is the lawmaking organ that can give the BBI some legal muscle. There is no way that report can be implemented if it is not taken to Parliament,” the former Bureti MP said.

He cautioned that a decisive debate on the report should await its official release.

Political analyst Herman Manyora on Wednesday said the handshake team will push their way through the House if the report would be handed to MPs for input.

“Nobody will dare defy President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. These MPs making noise cannot dare go against the two leaders if the handshake is still strong,” Manyora said.

 “Uhuru and Raila will bulldoze their way out. When it comes to a push, there is no single MP who will go against their wishes.”

On Friday, Duale denied that the BBI report will split the House along the Kieleweke and Tangatanga lines​,​ saying once the ​President agrees to it he will hold a parliamentary group meeting for endorsement before sending it to the House.

 ​"Whatever BBI will propose and the ​President is happy with that because he is the one who formed​ it​, Jubilee will support," he said​.​ 

"Any amendments that will be done through a parliamentary initiative, the Jubilee members in the National Assembly under my leadership​,​ as they have done before in passing government agenda, will support."

He added that if the President ​and ​Raila agree on the BBI recommendations, Parliament will pass them overwhelmingly.

The Majority leader said the House does not recognise Kieleweke, Tanagatanga, Embrace or Inua Mama formations some of which​,​ he said​,​ are led by selfish people looking for money.