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Showdown as Uhuru, Raila Launch Referendum Signature Drive

THE STAR 11/18/2020

Raila announced the drive to collect one million valid signatures will begin on Thursday

President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted by ODM leader Raila Odinga during a tour of Kisumu county on October 22. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.

A showdown is in the offing as President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila Odinga launch the signatures drive for the contentious referendum.

There's no public consensus. An NIS report to Uhuru says only 19 per cent of the country wants a referendum - but the drive will begin on Thursday.

The drive means the two have slammed the door on any changes to the disputed Building Bridges Initiative proposals.

Some of its key proposals have drawn widespread strident criticism - and calls for more time and amendments. Raila says just vote 'no' at the ballot if you don't like it.

Deputy President William Ruto has threatened to lead the 'no' campaign in the contested referendum.

On Tuesday, Raila announced the signatures collection drive will begin on Thursday, setting the stage for a  do-0r-die battle barely two years to the 2022 General Election.

“On Thursday (tomorrow), me and the President will lead the country in launching the collection of signatures. We want it to be done as quickly as possible so that by latest end of next week we shall have concluded the exercise,”Raila said.

For the first time, it has emerged the BBI secretariat will be led by Uhuru and Raila diehards.

The Secretariat will be co-chaired by Kisii Woman Representative Janet Ongera and Sarah Kilemi, the wife of former Education assistant Minister Kilemi Mwiria.

Ongera is a Raila confidant and served as ODM executive director for many years, including during the 2010 referendum when Raila was Prime Minister.

Suna East MP Junet Mohamed and former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru will constitute the political wing of the secretariat.

They will be charged with coordinating all the activities and ensure that the BBI referendum sails through the population, county assemblies and Parliament.

Waweru is a staunch supporter of the President who has no time for Ruto.

Raila told reporters they are working on elaborate plans to ensure signatures of registered voters are collected within a week, a record time.

The signatures will be submitted to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for verification before the year ends.

It is reported signature collection will be spearheaded by the provincial administration with roots across the country that is likely to make the exercise a walk in the park.

In 2016, Cord failed to get one million signatures in its Okoa Kenya Referendum drive.

With the door for further amendments bolted, it's clear Kenya is headed for fiercely contested plebiscite. 

On Monday, Ruto trashed the BBI recommendations as a "bad document" and warned against refusing to open it for amendments. 

He expressed regret the costly two-year product had turned out to be “highly controversial and with so many glaring gaps”.

“Those driving the BBI should not tell Kenyans that they have no time for further amendments. If we cannot enrich the document, then we would end up with a bad Constitution because its work was entirely unprofessional,” the Deputy President said.

So far, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, a wide section of civil society players and women's groups have threatened to shoot down the initiative.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops says the BBI report will birth an imperial presidency and a police state.

In 2010, Ruto teamed up with the church to oppose enactment of the current Constitution.

On Tuesday, Raila told Ruto to brace for an epic political battle in the impending referendum, ruling out possibility of further amendments on the documents as demanded.

“Those are his views; he is entitled to his views. There will always be doubting Thomases in any process and that is why we are saying if you disagree with it [BBI proposals]l let's meet in the field. Useme yako, tuseme yetu (You sell your position as we sell ours),” Raila said.

The ODM leader spoke after meeting minority and majority leaders from all the 47 county assemblies.

He was accompanied by Junet Mohamed and Nyando MP Jared Okelo during the afternoon meeting at a Nairobi hotel.

During the Thursday launch at KICC, which will be attended by 300 people, the President, Raila and national leaders will sign the signature booklets before they are taken to counties, constituencies and wards.

Raila, the former PM and current AU envoy for infrastructure, said any editorial adjustment will be concluded on Wednesday and the bill published this week.

Junet hinted the bill might be published on Wednesday, ahead of Thursday's signature launch.

“The bill will be available at the signature launch,” he told the Star on the one.

Already, a BBI secretariat has been set up that will spearhead the process expected to culminate into a referendum in June next year.

The Star has established four experts have been identified to make the suggested editorial work on the document.

They include university don Prof Ben Sihanya, ODM executive director Oduor Ong’wen, Tom Macharia and former Nyeri Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi.

The experts are expected to finish on Wednesday and the bill published the same day.

Initially, the signature collection drive was to be held on Monday but that idea was abandoned in what insiders called the need to build more consensus on the document.

On Sunday, Raila met Western region governors to whip them into supporting the document after the Council of Governors raised a number of issues they demanded be addressed.

Governors had proposed a long list of changes to BBI, including giving them a free hand in choosing their deputies after election, strengthening Senate and giving it veto power on all bills.

They also want powers to hire and fire their deputies, as they do with members of County Executive Committees, given that BBI proposes DGs be given ministerial portfolios.

Governors also want removal of a proposal that they choose deputies of the opposite gender, meaning they don't want mostly women deputies.

Apart of meeting county Assemblies’ leadership on Tuesday, Raila is also expected to meet the women leaders on Wednesday as he makes his final dash to build consensus.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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