Deputy President William Ruto appears to have dropped some of his tough ‘irreducible minimums’ to support BBI as prospects for consensus diminish.
More than five million signatures calling for a referendum are to be submitted to the IEBC.
On Sunday Ruto declared that he will not accept a political contest with President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, insisting it’s possible to bridge the divide.
Ruto emphasised two demands on Sunday as he presided over a fundraiser at Bishop Margret Wanjiru’s Jesus is Alive ministries in Nairobi. He made a personal cash donation of Sh3 million.
Those original five tough demands put Ruto between a rock and a hard place. He appears to be changing tack.
For the first time, Ruto said he was aware his main opponents were keen to block any efforts to build consensus because they are interested in a contest.
“From us, we are not interested in a contest, they have invited us into a contest, they are daring us into a contest, they are threatening us with a contest. We are telling them, ‘No, thank you’,” the DP said.
Ruto said “reason” would be the best way out to solve the referendum stalemate so that leaders can address more pressing issues facing the country. Such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the badly damaged economy.
“There are things that are important to the people of Kenya at this point in time, one of them is not a contest about our Constitution,” the DP said.
The DP last Wednesday told his allies he will not defy his boss, President Kenyatta, to mount a ‘No’ campaign because it would hurt his political chances to become President.
Now he says all he wants is reason to prevail and the two remaining tough demands to be granted.
“Let us stop disrespect and pride, Kenyans can choose their leaders and Kenyans can choose the clauses they want and can also reject those they don’t want. That is all, we want to move together,” Ruto said on Sunday.
The DP said Kenya has serious problems like the planned doctors strike that begins Monday and the coronavirus that is killing Kenyans.
It is unlikely the DP’s remaining two demands will be met.
The President and Raila say BBI is ‘closed’ for further changes. Raila says multiple-choice would confuse the Kenyan voter.
The BBI secretariat plans to move the process to the Independent Electoral Commission before the end of this week, in what could further isolate Ruto.
Yesterday, a section of his lieutenants sensationally claimed that the 5.2 million signatures collected by the BBI secretariat were forgeries.
“These are fake signatures from M-Pesa agent booklets. Let them publish them if they believe they are genuine. We know who the real people are,” Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot said on Sunday. He accompanied Ruto.
BBI proponents had maintained the signatures were collected by coordinators from across the country and dismissed allegations that provincial administration officers forced anyone to sign.
Raila – the handshake and BBI co-principal with the President – has challenged Ruto to go ahead and launch a ‘NO’ campaign against the referendum. He said the BBI train has left the station.
But Ruto said efforts should be directed towards dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, expanding schools infrastructure and buying masks for children ahead of the reopening of schools in January.
“Many countries are planning how the rollout of the vaccine will get to every county and every village. Let us think about these issues, the issues of a referendum, we can sort them out through reason, a contest is not necessary,” he said.
The DP is said not to be willing to spearhead a ‘No’ campaign’ because a confrontation with the President would be politically damaging.
A Yes versus No campaign could also drain his financial war chest barely 19 months to the 2022 General Election. It would give a platform for his main opponents to build momentum for the next polls.
Backing BBI are heavyweights including Raila, ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, as well as Kanu chairman Gideon Moi.
The DP’s allies on Sunday claimed the proposed referendum was a being used as a political mobilisation tool against Ruto ahead of 2022.
“We are determined to remove a referendum as a political mobilisation tool. There is a habit of some leaders pushing for a Yes or No referendum so they can use that to mobilise for the general elections,” Cheruiyot said.
He said that as in 2005, 2010 and the 2015 botched Okoa Kenya Constitution amendment process, the push for a referendum has been timed a few months to the 2022 elections for political reasons.
“If it is not about 2022, let the issues be reduced into five or six questions but not about people pushing us into the No side. This referendum must be about issues,” he said.
Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah warned there was a concerted effort by the DP’s rivals to push through a divisive and disruptive referendum for 2022 political reasons.
Ichung’wah said the country was reeling from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic and cannot afford to go into a very expensive referendum that will kill its economy.
“We don’t want a contest where some people are going to mobilise people to take on the DP, leave Ruto to plan his hustlers and let us meet at the ballot in 2022,” Ichung’wah said.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika said a Yes vs No referendum push was totally unpopular with people at the grassroots.
She said the plebiscite proponents are determined to gauge the DP’s political support.
“These people telling us that the train has left the station and that there is no luxury of time to listen to us are only interested in Yes vs No so that they can have a political match. Why can’t they wait for 2022 so that they can have that?” Kihika asked.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria asked Ruto to reject what he termed a mock contest invitation by his rivals through the BBI referendum.
“There are some people who can’t differentiate a door leading to a butchery from the other one getting into a church but they now want you for a mock test. Please refuse, this test is useless,” Kuria said.
He claimed some forces could be behind the referendum push to derail reforms expected at the IEBC so that they can postpone the 2022 elections.
“There are some people who don’t want 2the 022 elections, they want BBI so that they can disrupt the plans and avoid the elections,” he said.
(Edited by V. Graham)