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Referendum or not? Ruto’s headache over Raila’s demands.

President William Ruto is in the horns of a dilemma after opposition chief Raila Odinga demanded a referendum on key recommendations of the dialogue team.


Raila said that Kenyans must have their say regarding a proposal to establish the offices of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.There are fears that an expensive referendum would further worsen the country’s economic situation given that Kenyans are reeling from huge debts.


Then as deputy president, Ruto aggressively opposed calls for a referendum to anchor proposals that were contained in the botched Building Bridges Initiative.


Given the country’s economic situation, analysts say the president will be walking a tightrope over the referendum proposals that include expanding the legislature.The president had campaigned strongly against the expansion of the executive and parliament, accusing his predecessor of scheming to share posts through the BBI.


Ruto had claimed that the establishment of the office of the leader of the opposition does not require a referendum, a view that Raila disagreed with.The dialogue committee had also decided to upgrade Ruto’s proposal for the entrenchment into the constitution of the prime cabinet secretary by proposing the creation of the prime minister’s office.


However, a section of politicians in Ruto’s administration have opposed the proposal for a referendum terming it an unsustainable burden on taxpayers.Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, an ally of Ruto, poured cold water on the referendum calls, saying it will interfere with the government’s programmes.


“It’s the wrong time to talk about those things now. For some of the issues they have proposed to actualized, they need a referendum and we cannot subject Kenya to a contest,” Nyoro said.


Nyoro reflected on the 2002 election, the referendum of 2005 and other elections that followed, saying the heightened political activities slowed down Kenya’s economy.


On the other hand,Tigania West MP John Mutunga also opposed calls for a referendum saying a plebiscite will be costly to Kenyans.


“Kenya Kwanza considers referendum as one of the options but bearing in mind our situation, the referendum will be very expensive for us economically, yet we are talking about the cost of living,” he said.


The opposition is pushing for a referendum to not only entrench the two offices but also decide on whether Kenya should continue being a pure presidential system, go the parliamentary way or adopt a hybrid model.Raila insisted that the people of Kenya must have their say regarding establishing two offices by way of a referendum.


“Besides it is a constitutional requirement that such significant restructuring of government must go through a referendum to avoid the mischief that may be played by some people going to court,” he added.


“It is also our stand that this country cannot continue moving forward by being undecided. We have to agree whether we want a parliamentary, presidential system or hybrid.”


Analysts say the proposals would put the president in a tight corner given that a referendum would contradict his past pronouncements and also expose him as a master of doublespeak.Political analyst Alexander Nyamboga said the radical proposals and demands by Raila might test Ruto’s resolve.


“It was the president who campaigned against sharing power among the elites and fired up Kenyans with the hustler empowerment narrative. How the recommendations will advance his agenda for Kenyans remains doubtful,” he said.


Nyamboga said Ruto might opt for the international community to finance such a referendum if push comes to shove.


“The other option would be for Ruto and Raila to reach out directly to donors to finance the referendum to appease Kenyans,” he said.


Ahead of a proposed referendum in 2021, Raila had claimed that such an exercise would cost Kenyans less than had been projected by the electoral commission.The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission then published a notice saying a referendum would cost taxpayers Sh13.7 billion.


“The proposed referendum to be conducted sometime in 2021 is estimated to cost Sh14 billion, having factored all major cost drivers such as technology, ballot papers, temporary poll officials and security, among others,” IEBC said in a statement.


The IEBC disclosed that the country spent Sh10 billion to conduct the 2010 referendum that ushered in the new Constitution with some 12.6 million registered voters.


In the 2017 Fresh Presidential Election, which is a single ballot election like a referendum; it cost the country about Kshs.12 billion


In the 2005 referendum in which Raila won against then President Mwai Kibaki, taxpayers coughed Sh4 billion to finance the exercise.The 2005 referendum is blamed for stoking ethnic tensions among Kenyans and hurtling the country down a dangerous path of ethnic divisions.


Campaigns leading to the vote were laced with poisonous rhetoric from the two opposing sides, leaving no doubt that the contest, once over, would leave the country more divided than ever and there are fears that such a referendum a year after a general election would divide the country and turn out to be a political contest between Ruto and Raila.


Such a dress rehearsal for the 2027 general election would disorient the Kenya Kwanza administration and delay its agenda, analysts argue.


Article By Suzy Nyongesa.


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