The government of Kenya has formally challenged a ruling by the country’s High Court last month that said President Uhuru Kenyatta’s proposed constitutional reforms were illegal.
The sweeping constitutional changes – popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – were shot down by the court on May 14, in a blow to Kenyatta and his allies who wanted the amendments put to a referendum before next year’s elections.
In a formal appeal filed in court on Wednesday, Solicitor General Kennedy Ogeto said the five-panel bench had “erred” in determining that the president did not have the legal authority to spearhead such amendments.
The High Court’s conclusion that Kenyatta could also be sued in a personal capacity for pursuing such an initiative was also incorrect, the government’s top lawyer argued in appeal documents seen by the AFP news agency.
The appeals court will begin hearing the case on June 29.
The BBI proposal seeks notably to expand the executive in what its proponents have billed as an attempt to curb cycles of election-related violence in Kenya, a problem blamed on the existing winner-takes-all electoral system.
It will create 70 new constituencies, return the role of cabinet ministers to elected members of parliament, and create several powerful new posts: a prime minister, two deputies and an official leader of the parliamentary opposition.
The drive was born from an alliance struck by Kenyatta and his political foe Raila Odinga in the aftermath of a disputed 2017 election between the men that exploded into violence.
The BBI has been approved by parliament and has dominated Kenyan politics ever since, splashed on the front pages of newspapers as Kenyatta and Odinga have toured the country rallying support for the initiative, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics see the move as a bid to create a prime minister post for Kenyatta, who is not allowed to seek a third term in 2022.
His deputy William Ruto – who many tipped to succeed Kenyatta in 2022 – opposes the reforms and has been sidelined as the president has forged a political relationship with Odinga.
Some have argued that adopting the reforms would burden a country already struggling with debt as they would push up the parliament’s sky-high wage bill while creating more opportunities for patronage and corruption.
In a televised speech on Tuesday, Kenyatta said the High Court’s opposition to the BBI amounted to an “attempt to stop the will of the people”.