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Raila hand to influence change of law strengthened by rejection of Aukot bill

KWENDO OPANGABy KWENDO OPANGA
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Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s hand to influence change to Kenya’s nine-year-old Constitution, and with it shape the architecture of the Kenyatta II succession, has been greatly strengthened.

The ongoing rejection of Punguza Mizigo, Thirdway Alliance’s drive for small parliament and parsimonious government, by County Assemblies, renders Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) ascendant and monopolistic.

The BBI, a child of the private contract between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, two previously implacable foes, is the route to change of the Constitution favoured by the government and minority, yet all-powerful, political elite.

Punguza Mizigo’s threat to Kenya’s four mainstream political parties was immediately and abundantly clear when in July they ganged up to attack its small parliament and government idea as unworkable and destabilising.

Unsurprisingly, they sowed the seeds of suspicion that Punguza Mizigo was sponsored by Deputy President William Ruto to derail and defeat BBI, thereby styming Mr Odinga’s presidential ambition.

RUTO ATTACKS

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While packaged as uniting Kenyans who are divided at every general election by losers embittered by winner-take-all and first-past-the-post systems, BBI is Mr Odinga’s vehicle for pole position in the presidential succession.

It is the platform from which an unelected Odinga persistently attacks an elected DP, who he will likely run against for the top job.

He accuses him of corrupting clergy in a bid to buy the presidency with mammon.

And BBI has given Mr Odinga proximity to power which enables him to cast himself as a presidential confidant, publicly display camaraderie with Mr Kenyatta as well as play co-President.

Using the cover of protecting BBI, President Kenyatta defends Mr Odinga from Dr Ruto’s attacks. But does not do the same for Dr Ruto.

That escalates the duelling between the two and heightens suspicion the President prefers Mr Odinga to Dr Ruto for his heir.

REFERENDUM

Punguza Mizigo’s decline, that it is linked to the Kenyatta II succession, and tantalising leaks have combined to cast the coming launch of BBI’s report as an eagerly awaited event.

Because BBI is regarded as Mr Odinga’s brainchild, it has been speculated that it will recommend his favoured parliamentary system of government, a premier and president, and therefore an expanded Executive.

But if BBI was created to end quinquennial poll violence caused by losing competitors embittered by winner-take-all and first-past-the-post systems, it remains to be seen if it will recommend proportional representation over first-past-the-post.

The BBI is expected to vouch for Cabinet ministers to be appointed from among the Members of Parliament; that the appointing authority, namely the premier, be vested with power to sack ministers and deputy president.

It had been widely expected that BBI would recommend a referendum on the Constitution. But recent media reports and nods and winks from BBI operatives suggest this may not be the case.

CORRUPTION

Plans have been afoot for the initiative to play down a referendum and play up the merits of changing the Constitution through Parliament. So much for the independence of BBI.

Where does this leave Dr Ruto? Using the cover of BBI to campaign while pretending not to, Mr Odinga has loudly tied the DP to corruption and therefore the target of the so-called war on graft. The President has been more strategic.

Ditto the Constitution. To many observers, changing the Constitution to create a premier and deputy premiers plus president is aimed at reducing the DP’s post to a backwater and jettisoning Dr Ruto altogether from the presidential succession.

Dr Ruto’s position on the twin issues of graft and change of Constitution have been clear and, not surprisingly, run counter to Mr Odinga’s.

He denies he is a thief and opposes change to create jobs for poll failures.

REDUCED POWERS

He supports change to improve the lives of Kenyans and promote inclusivity. Put simply, he opposes what BBI and Mr Odinga support. However, the DP has been greatly weakened.

The erosion of his power in government is highlighted by the enhancement of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s. Indeed, Dr Matiang’i has been variously nicknamed Prime Minister, Super Minister and Chief Minister.

Politically, the circle of Dr Ruto’s allies has shrunk as they have encountered all manner of legal and political pressures.

Dr Ruto’s dwindling fortunes are in sharp contrast to the flourishing of Mr Odinga’s. Because Mr Odinga tells BBI what to think, it is, as they say in tennis, advantage Mr Odinga.

But the advantage of the tinkerers (sungura wajanja) disadvantages Wanjiku (owners) agents of genuine change (constitutionalists). For the DP, BBI’s report will mean deep dive and drawing board.