The Jubilee party has been toying with the idea of amending the Constitution to split and expand the Executive since 2015, but kept it under wraps until the 2017 re-election hurdle was scaled.
Key proposals were creation of two deputy vice-president positions and re-introduction of the Office of the Prime Minister.
According to the internal document, Jubilee had planned to ride the 2017 re-election campaign on the proposed amendments to shore up support for President Kenyatta’s bid for a second term.
Jubilee shared the proposals with then Cord senior officials, who later launched Okoa Kenya Referendum Bill (2016), but which sank after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) dismissed signatures presented as “fake”, insinuating that they did not represent “real” registered voters according to IEBC records.
However, details emerging from intense internal Jubilee wars over proposed amendments indicate the United Republican Party (URP) faction of the ruling party came close to threatening to move out of Jubilee to launch a separate campaign in the 2017 General Election, if their The National Alliance (TNA) partners insisted on pushing for the amendments.
The first public hint that something was afoot to amend the supreme law came in January 2016 when veteran political commentator Tony Gachoka showed up at a press conference with then Cord leader, Raila Odinga, to “petition” him to reach out to President Kenyatta over constitutional amendments.
Mr Gachoka said at the briefing that was held at Mr Odinga’s office at Upper Hill that he would deliver the same petition to President Kenyatta. It was not clear whose errands Mr Gachoka was running. He was a former chief of protocol of Mr Odinga when he was Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government (2008-2012).
The petition addressed to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga called for “urgent consensus in public interest” on “need for changes in some of the constitutional, legal and administrative laws by way of a referendum while areas in which agreement can be reached should be negotiated in the public interest [by] Parliament without a referendum.”
Significantly, bullet one of Mr Gachoka’s petition called for a “National Consensus Discussions (NCD) on four principal matters in the public interest …” which today sounds like another name for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Then in February 2018, a surprise Constitutional Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament by Tiaty MP William Kamket, whose key proposal included creation of the Office of the Prime Minister and abolition of office of the Deputy President.
It is significant despite its monumental implications that Kamket’s Bill was not sponsored by any political party nor was it a result of any debate. It came to be seen by some as flying the kite to test reactions to the radical proposals.
Mr Kamket is a Kanu MP and the party has been a vocal proponent of constitutional amendments.
Weeks after Mr Kamket’s Bill triggered a fiery debate, the now famous March 9 handshake and BBI, whose agenda is similar to that contained in Mr Gachoka’s petition two years earlier, came to be. Sources say the proposals did not reach the public debate stage when URP got wind of it and hit the roof.
Furious, the URP read the petition as a clever ploy by Deputy President (DP) William Ruto’s detractors to get him out of the Uhuru Kenyatta succession line-up. The petition, they said, was also to edge Mr Ruto out of the 2017 re-election as Mr Kenyatta’s running mate, and probably replace him.
“My alarm bells about shady things going on behind our backs went off in 2015 when we first became aware of proposals that emerged about constitutional amendments to create positions of two deputy presidents and a prime minister. There is nothing wrong about legal amendments but the party had not discussed things with such drastic implications,” Meru Senator Mithika Linturi said.
When asked what was the rationale of wishing Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta to meet at a time both were revving up for the 2017 General Election, Mr Gachoka said it was because they realised Mr Odinga was a formidable political force who commanded support of half the country.
“I told him, ‘look, your father was in politics for over 50 years but one of his greatest blunders was to antagonise the biggest political bloc, the Gema bloc”.
“I pleaded with him to reach out to President Kenyatta and through him to the Gema nation, because if he waited too long, Mr Ruto would grow in our hearts (Gema nation) and would be hard to challenge. And he agreed and told me to go tell the President that we talked,” Mr Gachoka recalled last Friday.
Asked what the public interest was, he highlighted reorganisation of the IEBC and fixing leadership of the Judiciary after the retirement of Dr Willy Mutunga ‘both of which were very divisive issues then.’”
The push, however, took a back seat as the exigencies of keeping Jubilee intact ahead of 2017 took an upper hand after URP wing said it would not countenance any of the changes.
Despite oblique broadsides directed at the DP from his detractors insinuating that he could cost President Kenyatta re-election bid in 2017, and, hence, suggesting his replacement, nothing by way of statements in the public domain or actions ever suggested the DP considered being a presidential candidate in 2017.
However, a prominent Ghanaian televangelist, Rev Nicholas Duncan Williams, who runs a worldwide network of Christian ministries, says in a video clip posted on YouTube in May last year that he advised the DP against running for President in 2017, but to instead, stick with Kenyatta.
“Before the Kenyan elections, the DP came to see me. He was planning for election as President, and he came with his wife and some team and we prayed. I said it is not yet your time, you will not win. I said if you join Mr Kenyatta as his vice, you will win. It is his time to win … and he went and joined and he is the DP today,” says the preacher.
The announcement by former Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe that he resigned in preparation for establishing a new “Stop Ruto Movement” would indicate the URP reservations were not entirely unfounded.
In the latest indicator that gloves were off for an all-out anti-Ruto campaign, Mr Murathe declared in a television interview on Sunday: “The stop Ruto movement is unstoppable”
Asked what his reading of the latest developments, which had all the hallmarks of his “petition” to Mr Odinga in January 2016, Mr Gachoka said Jubilee could soon be a shell.
“The referendum will be driven by new faces at all levels including a possible Government of National Unity. If action is shifted from Jubilee Party to another outfit what are you left with in Jubilee?” he posed.
He said Mr Murathe’s resignation and his “Stop Ruto” declaration were baby steps towards bigger things, a new order and new players ushered in by the handshake.
“Anyone who misses out is in for a rude shock. I pity individuals in the House and the Senate leadership and committees’ membership,” Mr Gachoka, who belligerently tweets now and then, that DP Ruto will not be Kenya’s fifth President, said.