Kenya’s High Court blocks President Kenyatta’s constitutional reforms

In a major setback for President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s High Court has slammed his plan to bring fundamental changes to the Constitution and reshape the political system of the country. In a crucial ruling on Thursday, the five-judge High Court bench declared the President’s ambition to reform the political system was ‘illegal, irregular, and unconstitutional’.

Notably, the proposed constitution amendment bill, known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), was passed by both the Senate and the National Assembly ahead of Thursday’s High Court ruling. While the bill was awaiting President’s assent to move forward for a referendum before general elections next year, the court’s ruling has sent Kenyatta plans into a disarray.

In a long-running televised ruling, the five-judge HC bench said President Kenyatta violated the Constitution by using a provision reserved for citizens to make the changes to the political system.

“A popular initiative to amend the constitution can only be started by the people not by the government,” the High Court said.

The bench also ruled that the BBI committee appointed by the President to initiate the changes was an “unlawful entity” and violated the Constitution.

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The bill was instituted by President Kenyatta with the support of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga after they formed a pact following the 2017 elections debacle. Under the BBI, President Kenyatta and Odinga proposed reintroducing the role of prime minister and two deputies, creating the position of leader of the opposition, increasing the budget share of the counties, among other key changes in the Constitution.

However, critics have raised concerns over increasing budget deficit and a bloated government in the country. But the President and opposition leader Raila Odinga have maintained that the reforms will bring an end to “winner-takes-all” election process and provide greater political representation to thecountry’s leaders.

While the court judgement has come as a hindrance to Kenyatta’s plan to reform the country’s Constitution, it could boost the political position of Deputy President William Ruto, who plans to run for the top post next year. The verdict is also a huge loss for Odinga who was seeking to use the initiative in his fifth bid for Kenya’s presidential elections in 2022.

Meanwhile, the government has expressed intentions to challenge the High Court’s ruling in the Court of Appeal.