REFERENDUM VS ELECTION

Why Ruto is no pushover

In Summary
  • What Uhuru and Raila are seeking to bring about is definitely “a new order of things”.
  • But there are many who have benefitted immensely from the current political dispensation and have no wish to see it changed.

Looking ahead to the referendum planned for later this year as the culmination of the Building Bridges Initiative, it is worthwhile to note that the established voting pattern in constitutional referendums in Kenya, is quite different from the voting patterns we see at general elections.

The first and most obvious example is that retired President Mwai Kibaki was initially elected in 2002 with a clear majority of 62 per cent to the 31 per cent vote for his principal opponent, our current President Uhuru Kenyatta. But just three years later when Kibaki led those who supported the proposed new constitution of 2005 in a referendum, the ‘Yes’ vote was only 42 per cent of the tally, with a decisive 58 per cent voting “No”.

Thus, this attempt at constitutional change ended in humiliating failure, primarily because the president was not able to hold onto the 62 per cent of Kenyan voters who had supported him just three years earlier.

Thereafter, Kibaki went on to narrowly win the highly controversial 2007 general election; his principal rival in that election, Raila Odinga, became the Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government formed to bring an end to the near-civil-war that followed; and we had another constitutional referendum in 2010 as part of the comprehensive reforms agreed on as necessary when the coalition government was formed.

Now in the 2007 general election, Kibaki and Raila between them got about 91 per cent of the vote, with Kalonzo Musyoka coming a distant third with about nine per cent of the vote. Kalonzo was then appointed Vice President in the Grand Coalition Government.

So, with all three political giants of the day supporting the proposed constitution of 2010, you would have thought that it would be approved with something like a 90 per cent majority at the very least.

But if so, you would have been very wrong.

The 2010 constitution was definitely supported by a clear majority of voters, which is why it was then promulgated as “the new constitution”.

But that majority was about 69 per cent – not 90 per cent, much less the 100 per cent which should have been at least theoretically possible since all the three leading political figures of the day supported the proposed new constitution.

The clear pattern here is that any Kenyan president who takes the nation into a constitutional referendum process, whether he succeeds or fails, cannot hope to get the same level of support as he did during the most recent presidential election. Not even if he is supported in this process by his most powerful political rival who had amassed an almost equally large number of votes in that general election.

Hence although Uhuru and Raila, between them received 99 per cent of the votes cast in the August 8, 2017, General Election, this does not automatically translate into their receiving 99 per cent of the votes to be cast in the upcoming constitutional referendum.

Why is this?

Well, as always, the favourite political philosopher of Kenyan media pundits, Niccolò Machiavelli, had a clear insight into such matters. In his seminal work, The Prince, he wrote:

“…there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

What Uhuru and Raila are seeking to bring about is definitely “a new order of things”. A fundamental change in the constitutional structure of our top leadership. But there are many – including in Uhuru’s political backyard of Central Kenya – who have benefitted immensely from the current political dispensation and have no wish to see it changed.

Thus, the Deputy President, Dr William Ruto, who is considered to be “the hidden hand” behind all opposition to any such fundamental change, is – according to Machiavelli – in an automatic position of strategic advantage.

Uhuru and Raila will have to work much harder than Ruto if they hope to see their “new order of things” successfully launched before the 2022 election.