Kenya’s main opposition party the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM-Kenya) has welcomed President Mwai Kibaki’s willingness to accept minimum constitutional reforms before this year’s general elections. The opposition party has also cautioned Mr. Kibaki not to use the opportunity to gain what the ODM describe as cheap political points. Observers are wondering if the president’s gesture is genuine, especially, when he had always rejected demands for any minimum reforms in the Constitution.
Chris Okemo is a leading member of the opposition ODM-Kenya. He told VOA via telephone that President Kibaki’s gesture is long overdue.
“This effort has been on for a long time. Immediately after the referendum, the ODM group made a lot of effort to try and get the government to the negotiating table in order to define the way forward, after the proposed draft constitution had been rejected, and it has been an uphill task,” Okemo said.
He said the president’s gesture took the party by surprise.
“We were very pleasantly surprised when the president changed his mind and said that the government was now prepared to sit with the ODM and other stakeholders to look at the way forward, with the view to having some minimal changes in the constitution to level the playing field before the general elections,” Okemo noted.
Okemo said the president’s gesture would only have a positive impact on the discourse about the country’s democracy if Mr. Kibaki is sincere in embracing minimal reforms.
“I think a lot is going to depend on whether this is merely a symbolic gesture or whether it is a genuine effort by the government, actually to review the constitution with the view to leveling the playing field. In other words, we are hoping that the government is ultimately serious about the exercise. And we hope that it is not a gimmick because of the upcoming general elections,” Okemo pointed out.
He said ODM-Kenya had wanted a revamp of the constitution, but changed its stance because there was not enough time.
“Ideally, what ODM had wanted was a complete overhaul of the constitution. And that is why immediately after the referendum, we made a specific effort to his Excellency, the president to try and spearhead the process and let all the stakeholders come together so that we can particularly deal with the contentious clauses in the draft constitution,” he said.
Okemo said the rejected draft constitution had a lot of good clauses that would have benefited political parties in the country. However, he believed the government did not act in time to salvage that proposed constitution.
“A lot of the clauses in that proposed draft constitution was acceptable to both parties. But unfortunately, this has taken a long time and now, the time left is not really enough to do a comprehensive review of the constitution. Therefore, we are saying let us carry out those reforms, which are so essential to ensuring that the general elections are carried out democratically,” he said.