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Kenya

Parliament sets up roadblocks for Building Bridges law

Challenge to reform bill could derail referendum on constitutional change posing a heavy risk for Odinga

The passing of the bill implementing the recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative should have been a formality paving the way for a referendum. Instead, several embarrassing setbacks for the 'handshake' duo President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, have prompted concerns that the project could yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (AC Vol 62 No 1, Handshake to face poll test).

Lawmakers in the Senate and National Assembly last week backed a majority report that declared that the BBI's proposal for 70 new constituencies was unconstitutional. Among the report's supporters were several surprising names, including Senator James Orengo, a close ally of former opposition leader and handshake partner Raila Odinga.

That parliamentarians should be uncomfortable about expanding the number of constituencies is unsurprising, but the timing of the rebellion is. It delays the passage of the bill and suggests that the handshake duo do not have the hefty parliamentary majorities that they thought.

David Murathe, vice-chair of Jubilee and staunch ally of President Kenyatta, insists that there is nothing to worry about since MPs cannot unpick or amend the BBI bill. However, the row suggests that both Kenyatta and Odinga face some serious dissent in parliament.

The longer the wait for the BBI referendum, the greater the risk that it becomes wrapped up in next August's presidential elections. The delays in getting the bill through parliament, a process which had been expected to be fast-tracked, means that a referendum on BBI has already been delayed to July, BBI co-chair Junet Mohamed has admitted.

Caleb Kositany, a spokesman for Deputy President William Ruto, says that the row over expanding parliament is the main line of attack for BBI opponents (AC Vol 62 No 5, Jubilee tent gets smaller).

Meanwhile, several county assemblies, which have already approved the BBI bill, have complained of being sent error-filled versions of the BBI report, with typographic errors and counter referencing of non-existent Articles in the BBI, by the already embattled Independent Electoral Commission Board. That could add more complications to decision-making.



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