Ali Roba’s UDM files lawsuit to leave Raila Odinga's Azimio coalition

Ali Roba.

United Democratic Movement party leader Ali Roba.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) party has filed a lawsuit whose outcome could settle the supremacy battle between President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Mr Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party in Parliament once and for all.

UDM, which is led by Mandera Senator Ali Roba and has eight MPs, is furious at the advisory by the Registrar of Political Parties lumping it among Azimio member parties yet it has allied itself with the ruling coalition.

A dispute over which coalition has the most MPs to be designated the majority side in the National Assembly is raging, with both sides laying claim to the majority leader’s post, for which Kenya Kwanza has named Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah (United Democratic Alliance) while Azimio has picked Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi (Orange Democratic Movement).

The leader of the majority party is the second in rank in the National Assembly after the Speaker, with the leader of the minority party the third in the pecking order.

‘Coerced to sign’

UDM, a party the former Mandera governor leads, and which was the first to switch to President Ruto’s camp after the elections, does not want to be associated with Azimio, claiming it was coerced to sign a pre-election coalition deal in the run-up to last month’s poll in which Mr Odinga—backed by then President Uhuru Kenyatta—faced off with the then Deputy President Ruto.

Following the outcome of the August 9 General Election, and in compliance with pre-election coalition agreements filed with the Registrar of Political Parties, Azimio has a majority 173 MPs over Kenya Kwanza’s 164 members in the National Assembly. The other 12 MPs in the 349-member House are independents who are not considered for the purposes of assigning the majority side.

But, as it stands and following Ruto’s poaching of members from parties that want to flee Mr Odinga’s coalition, Kenya Kwanza has a majority of 175 MPs against Azimio’s 162, which means a decision on UDM membership will settle the dispute.

UDM insists it has signed a post-election coalition deal with Kenya Kwanza, citing its constitutional right to free association, which it says supersedes the deal with Azimio that “was secured through blackmail”.

But the advisory by Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu informing Parliament of UDM’s statutory connection to Azimio has compelled the party to seek the court’s interpretation, given that the law bars a party from being a member of more than one coalition.

The registrar issued Azimio, which comprised 26 fully registered political parties, according to its coalition agreement, with a certificate of full registration on April 21.

The only recourse to sever ties with Azimio is through the exit clause stipulated in the agreement, which, however, will require UDM to wait for three months after the elections to trigger, which would see Azimio recognised as the majority side.

UDM, through Lunga Lunga MP Mr Mangale Chiforomodo, has moved to court to challenge this restrictive timeline. According to court papers seen by the Nation, the petitioner is aggrieved that a provision of the Azimio agreement that a constituent political party may not withdraw from the coalition within three months after the General Election is incompatible with the Constitution.

Kiraitu, Roba were forced to stay in Azimio - Ruto

Article 22 of the Azimio coalition agreement states that a party may withdraw from the agreement upon giving 90 days’ notice to the Azimio Council of its decision to withdraw from the coalition.

It adds that no party may withdraw from the coalition six months before the August 9, 2022 General Election or within three months after the date of the poll.

“It violates my constitutional rights and the people I represent as guaranteed under Articles 36 and 38 as read with Article 24 of the Constitution,” states the petitioner. Article 36 of the Constitution is on freedom of association, Article 38 stipulates political rights while Article 24 spells out limitation of rights and fundamental freedoms.

The battle for majority is crucial for the two coalitions since the majority side essentially takes control of the House.

The membership of each committee reflects the relative majorities of the seats held by each of the parliamentary parties in the National Assembly.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula will be called upon to arbitrate the dispute.

 The 11 UDM legislators, among them eight members of the National Assembly and three senators, have protested their association with Azimio, urging the Speaker to recognise them as Kenya Kwanza members.

They insist that they belong to President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance pursuant to a post-election agreement signed between UDM and the President’s coalition.

“It is, indeed, baffling that, despite the post-election coalition agreement that was signed between our party and the Kenya Kwanza coalition under the Political Parties Act, 2011, the Registrar of Political Parties knowingly disregarded the law and has unlawfully associated ourselves and indeed our party with a non-existent coalition agreement with the Azimio Coalition,” they said in the letter dated September 16.

The legislators are Mr Roba, Senators Mohamed Abbas (Wajir) and Mariam Omar as well as National Assembly members Bashir Abdullahi (Mandera North), Hassan Maalim (Banisa), Haro Abdul (Mandera South), and Mangale Chiforomodo (Lungalunga). The others are Yusuf Haji (Mandera West), Joseph Lekuton (Laisamis), Umulkheir Kassim (Mandera County) and Sulekha Harun (nominated).

The legislators noted that Article 38 of the Constitution recognises political rights including the freedom to make political choices.

They also pointed out that the Constitution guarantees freedom of association under Article 36.

‘Misrepresentation’

“These two fundamental rights cannot be negated by the alleged misrepresentation of facts and law by the Registrar of Political Parties, which seeks to place us in a coalition agreement that we are not party to.”

“We therefore protest against such actions and note that Article 10 of the Constitution, which outlines the national values and principles of governance, behoves upon you, honourable Speaker, in making any decision affecting the members of the House in particular the members of the UDM party, to make such decisions in a manner that promotes and advances the rule of law, good governance and human rights.”

The legislators insisted that any continued association with Azimio “is not only contrary to the Political Parties Act, 2011 but also Articles 10, 36 and 38 of the constitution.”

Yesterday, impeccable sources at the registrar’s office told the Nation that, as per their records, UDM still remains a bona fide member of the Azimio coalition.

“They have not triggered any exit clauses of the Azimio coalition and, therefore, according to our records, they are still members of the coalition,” the source revealed.

“We go with what is in the records and, until now, they have not been able to conclude this matter,” the source added.

But UDM Secretary-General David Ohito insisted that the office of the registrar was aware of the move by the party to exit Azimio.

“We have done so and she has copies of our letters. We haven’t even seen the Azimio documents whose last page they gave us to sign. So we don’t know what we are exiting from,” Mr Ohito said.

“We disown that relationship and coalition in the strongest terms possible and regret having associated with them in the past,” he added.

He said the party through Mr Chiforomodo had already filed a constitutional petition before Mombasa High court, dissociating with Azimio coalition.

But Azimio Secretary-General Junet Mohamed maintained that UDM is still part of the coalition pursuant to their signing of the pre-election agreement “which is still binding.”

“We also communicated to the registrar, who informed us that, according to her records, UDM is still a member of Azimio coalition,” Mr Junet told the Nation.

President Ruto picked Mr Ichung’wah as the National Assembly Majority Leader with Kilifi North’s Owen Baya as deputy.

South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro is designated Majority Whip and will be deputised by Marsabit Woman representative Naomi Waqo.

In the Senate, the President rewarded his close ally and Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot by naming him as the Senate Majority Leader. Ms Tabitha Karanja (Nakuru) will be his deputy.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale was picked as the Senate Majority Whip, with Samburu Senator Steve Lelegwe deputising him. The President handed all the House leadership positions to members of his UDA.

Majority Leader

Azimio, on the other hand, named Mr Wandayi Majority Leader in the National Assembly, with Kathiani MP Robert Mbui (Wiper) as his deputy.

Mr Mohammed was named Chief Whip and nominated MP Sabina Chege (Jubilee) the deputy whip.

In the Senate, Azimio picked Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo (ODM) as the Minority Leader with Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua (Wiper) as the deputy.

Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dhulo (Jubilee) has been picked as the Senate Minority Whip and will be deputised by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna (ODM).

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