Opinion  :: Columns  :: Letter from Lagos


Endgame for political bickering
Patrick Mwangi
Published: 26-SEP-05

Nairobi - Kenyans are gearing for a referendum that will finally bring to a close the long-drawn out constitutional review process.

The process of reviewing the constitution has been going on for at least five years, and has generated extreme temperatures in the country�s political landscape.

The process was started under former president Daniel arap Moi, who must rue his failure to finalise the process speedily because it is now being concluded with minimal influence from him or his allies.

He must also be wryly contemplating the fates given that the failure by his government to finalise the constitutional review process and give Kenyans a new constitution was one of the major planks the opposition used in the campaign to drive out his party, KANU, from office.

The process of getting Kenyans a new constitution has been anything but smooth. When on the campaign trail, President Mwai Kibaki and his NARC party promised that their government would have a new constitution in place within a hundred days.

However, the president was indisposed for most of those 100 days, still recovering from a motor vehicle accident during the campaign. When he resumed duties, other issues took to the fore, relegating the constitutional review process.

When finally the constitutional review could no longer be ignored, several thorny issues which defied all resolution effectively stymied progress. The most contentious of these was the creation of the post of an executive prime minister, who the draft constitution posited would emerge from the party with a majority in parliament.

President Kibaki and his allies balked at the prospect of going through a bruising campaign to become president, and then cede power to a prime minister who was only answerable to a cabal of members of parliament from his own party.

The upshot of it was that the controversies surrounding the constitutional review process became the battleground on which the two parties that came together to form the ruling NARC - the Liberal Democratic Party and the National Alliance Party of Kenya - manifested their differences.

The president is allied to the National Alliance Party of Kenya.

A major mobilisation by the government saw the report of this parliamentary committee on the constitution adopted by the National Assembly, paving the way for the Attorney General, Amos Wako, to publish a constitutional bill.

As we went to press, the bill was scheduled to be published in a few days time by the AG.

The draft constitution will then be presented to Kenyans at a referendum in November, at which Kenyans will either reject or adopt the new constitution.

According to the timetable, should Kenyans vote for the draft constitution in a referendum, and if adopted, the president will then proclaim it during the country�s annual December 12 national celebrations.

The threshold for adoption of the draft constitution will be a �yes� vote of at least 50% of votes cast.

One thing is certain, by December 2005, the constitutional review process will be over. Kenya will either be having a new constitution or will stay with the current one.

The endgame

The endgame is the best thing to have happened to Kenya in a while.

The endgame means that people can now move from politicking and endless bickering over the constitution.

It will, however, be a defining moment for the two parties that form NARC. For the Liberal Democratic Party, a defeat at the referendum will finally cast them adrift, showing them up as a party that was all noise, but was finally isolated, marginalised, and neutered.

A loss for the National Alliance Party of Kenya will be a body blow for President Kibaki, who has staked his personal and political reputation on enactment of the new constitution.

A �no� vote will mean that he will be limping badly as Kenya heads towards the next elections in 2007, with little time to create alternative agendas. Nothing has captured the psyche and imagination of Kenyans the way the constitutional review process has.

As for the ultimate question as to whether NARC can survive the referendum pulling in different directions, only time will tell. Predictions of a breakup, gleefully peddled by the media, have come to nought.

Indeed, it seems more likely that NARC might survive the referendum intact - whatever the outcome - and go into the elections on a new set of covenants.

Given the fact that theirs is a winning formula, it is unlikely that any partner will be so foolhardy as to try and present themselves as an alternative to a very fickle electorate.

Not especially when all members of parliament and ministers are having the biggest ball of any National Assembly ever! What with all the perks and allowances they routinely legislate for themselves in the National Assembly.

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