Kenyans should brace themselves for an early referendum than expected.
This is after the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) approved the 1.2 million signatures submitted by a group seeking the plebiscite to reduce the president's term of office and the number of MPs and the county assemblies.
The Punguza Mzigo Initiative by former presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot got a boost on Thursday after the electoral body said it had surpassed the required one million signatures for any attempt to change the supreme law through a popular quest.
In a statement, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission was satisfied with the signatures submitted paving the way for the referendum quest to be placed before the 47 county assemblies.
“In compliance with Article 257 (4) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, the Commission undertook a verification exercise to confirm whether the Punguza Mzigo Initiative was supported by at least one million registered voters.
The commission had since verified that the Initiative has been supported by 1,222,541 registered voters. This is therefore to notify the public and all stakeholders that the initiative has met the requisite threshold as required by the said Article 257(4) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010,” Mr Chebukati said.
As per the Constitution, once the signatures for the popular initiative have been ascertained the referendum's journey shifts to the 47 assemblies where more than half must agree with it for it to move to the next step.After ascertaining the signatures that were submitted on February 28, 2019, Mr Chebukati said the draft amendment bill submitted by Mr Aukot's team will immediately be sent to the assemblies, through their speakers, who will then consider it within three months and forward their decisions to the National Assembly and the Senate.
“The speakers of the respective county assemblies will submit the decisions of their respective assemblies to the Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate pursuant to Article 257 (6) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010,” the IEBC boss added.
The Initiative proposes a seven-year one-term president, reduce the number of MPs and Senators from the current 416 to 147. It also wants the scrapping of nominated positions in the Senate and the county assemblies. Increase county allocations from 15 percent to 35 percent of the annual audited revenues.
For the draft Bill to be passed by either House of Parliament, it must be voted for by a simple majority of the members. If approved by both houses, it will be sent to the President for assent. If the proposed changes require a referendum the President will ask the IEBC to call one within 90 days before assent if approved by the people.
Mr Aukot’s bill will require a referendum as it touches on the president’s term and Parliament’s functions.
This is the first popular initiative towards constitutional change to pass the first hurdle after a similar attempt by the opposition flopped in 2016. Then, the IEBC said the signatures submitted did not hit the required one million.
Kenyans are also waiting to know the recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative, a group formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to look into the shortcomings in the supreme law.
Recently, the group dismissed reports it had already arrived at some key recommendations, some similar to those contained in Aukot’s initiative like the reduction of the president’s term.