NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21 -Orange Democratic Movement party leader Raila Odinga now says he is ready to face Deputy President William Ruto as his main competitor in the 2022 General Election, giving the strongest indication yet that he will vie for the presidency for the fifth time.
Raila, who was speaking in his Bondo backyard during the burial of former National Aids Control Council (NACC) Director, Patrick Orege, urged his supporters to brace for continuous voter registration in December.
“Some people in the Wheelbarrow movement are chest-thumping, with people behind me, I am ready to take them head-on in the coming polls,” he said of Ruto whose party the United Democratic Movement (UDA) party uses the Wheelbarrow symbol.
Ruto has lately fashioned himself as the saviour of the millions of jobless youth in what he calls the Hustler Movement.
He formed the movement after falling out with his boss President Kenyatta when the latter shook hands with Odinga in March 2018 effectively ending their political difference after a bruising election in which Kenyatta won.
Kenyatta and Odinga then initiated a constitutional amendment bid through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which was declared null and void by the constitutional court in May before they appealed.
The Court of Appeal threw out the challenge on August 20, in a humiliating defeat to Kenyatta and Odinga who were keen to change the constitution so as to expand the governance structure.
Odinga has welcomed the judgement nullifying the constitutional review process saying he has a new card he plans to unveil soon.
“We respect the appellate ruling, that is their work, the judges heard the case and made their determination and we are used to such decisions. The one constitution which was passed is the Bomas draft and we wanted to amend that but the court decided otherwise,” he said
“We will start afresh,” he assured.
But Kenyatta’s legal advisors, have indicated they may consider filing a challenge at the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Appeals Court decision.
“We are not satisfied with the judgement rendered today by the Court of Appeal. Once we receive the full judgement we will make a decision. We may consider to move to the Supreme Court,” Solicitor General Ken Ogeto told journalists outside the court soon after the judgement was rendered.
And for Deputy President William Ruto who did not support the constitutional reforms agenda from the onset, it is time to shine as it firmly places him on pole position in the competition for power, unless his opponents deploy key strategies to take him off that position that he enjoys.
On Friday, the Appeals Court rejected a government bid to make fundamental changes to the constitution, in a new blow to President Kenyatta who had initiated the controversial proposals.
A seven-judge panel confirmed an earlier High Court ruling that the way the reforms were introduced was illegal, a decision that will shift the political landscape with less than a year before the country goes to the polls.
Kenyatta had argued that the initiative would make politics more inclusive and help end repeated cycles of election violence in the East African nation, a hot-button issue that has divided the political elite.
Court president Daniel Musinga issued the judgment after more than 10 hours of a televised session.
“The president does not have authority under the constitution to initiate changes to the constitution,” he said.
“A constitutional amendment can only be initiated by parliament… or through a popular initiative,” he said, also announcing that Kenyatta could be sued in a civil court for launching the process.
The proposed reforms came about following a rapprochement between Kenyatta and his erstwhile opponent Raila Odinga and a famous handshake between the two men after post-election fighting in 2017 left dozens of people dead.
The so-called Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) notably aimed to restructure the current winner-takes-all electoral system, by expanding the executive and parliament to more evenly divide the spoils of victory.
But it was seen by critics as a way to enable Kenyatta — who is barred from running for president again in the August 9 vote — to remain in power by creating the post of prime minister.
Friday’s ruling allows the electoral process to follow its planned timetable — subject to any appeal to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest.
But it means the nation’s key political leaders may have to rethink their strategies to build alliances before the vote, analysts said.
With its diverse population and large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered politically-motivated communal violence around election time, notably after a 2007 poll when more than 1,100 people died.
– Moral victory? –
The proposed amendments to the 2010 constitution were approved by parliament in May and were then due to be put to a referendum.
But just two days later, the Nairobi High Court ruled they were illegal as the president did not have the right to initiate the process.
Kenyatta had criticised the decision as “an attempt to stop the will of the people” and his government appealed.
Supporters of the initiative argued it would improve fairness in the electoral system and help curb violence, but critics warned it could undermine the country’s democratic institutions.
BBI detractors also said it would further burden a country struggling under a $70-billion debt mountain and push up parliament’s already sky-high wage bill while creating more opportunities for patronage and corruption.
The reforms called for the creation of the posts of prime minister and two deputies, as well as an official opposition leader, and the expansion of parliament with 70 new constituencies.
Kenyatta’s pursuit of the reforms with Odinga, a four-time presidential contender, has spurred speculation that he may seek to become prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement, since he cannot run for president again after two terms.