Ball in Ruto, Raila’s court as bipartisan talks hits a snag

The chairperson of the Azimio negotiation team Otiende Amollo (third left) and his colleagues

The chairperson of the Azimio negotiation team Otiende Amollo (third left) and his colleagues during a press briefing at Emory Hotel in Nairobi on April 13, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Contentious issues that threaten negotiations on the political crisis will be resolved by President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga even as the bipartisan parliamentary committee held its inaugural meeting.

The leadership of both coalitions and the 14-member committee, in separate meetings yesterday, were unable to resolve the sticky issues that include the composition of the mediation team, terms of reference and nature of the talks specifically whether it’s an entirely parliamentary-driven initiative as the government wants.

Sources added the two leaders will also resolve the opposition’s demands for inclusion into the agenda of the audit of last year’s presidential election servers and the scope of reconstitution of the electoral commission — whether it entails reinstatement of poll commissioners who resigned or were sacked on accusations they were sympathetic to Mr Odinga.

It was not immediately clear whether this meant the two leaders will have a face-to-face meeting, and if so, when.

Yesterday, the bipartisan committee met for the first time at Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel after weeks of a tussle that saw the ruling Kenya Kwanza insist the engagement must be within a parliamentary framework against Azimio la Umoja One Kenya camp’s position for extra-parliamentary negotiations that mirror the Serena talks that midwifed the 2008 National Accord.

The committee meeting was preceded by another by the parliamentary leadership to try to resolve the disputes but although there were no compromises on all contested issues, both camps struck a reconciliatory tone. They even warned political players to refrain from statements that may be counterproductive.

The differences include the composition of the bipartisan team with respect to Eldas MP Adan Keynan and his Pokot South counterpart David Pkosing, formalisation and the nature of talks, whether parliamentary or extra-parliamentary.

Servers issue

Even though the committee co-chaired by Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo and his Tharaka counterpart George Murugara remained guarded about the issues of concern, Nation established that the opening of the 2022 presidential election servers for audit will also be referred back to the two principals.

Kenya Kwanza team had initially insisted their negotiators would only restrict themselves to the reconstitution of the electoral agency, but Mr Odinga’s camp has also demanded the restoration of the subsidies on unga, fuel, electricity and school fees, another matter the two leaders will have to address.

The opposition has also listed fidelity to multi-party democracy, possible reinstatement of the four former commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the Cherera Four, adherence to the principle of inclusivity in the appointment of civil servants and the time frame for the talks which Mr Odinga argues should end within 30 days while the government side wants 90 days.

President William Ruto with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium

President William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium during a past Jamhuri Day celebration. The contentious issues that threaten negotiations on the political crisis will be resolved by President Ruto and Mr Odinga even as the bipartisan parliamentary committee held its inaugural meeting.

Photo credit: DPPS

According to insiders in Kenya Kwanza, their team is also keen on using the talks to push for the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule, entrenchment in the Constitution of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Senate Oversight and National Gender Affirmative Action funds, the establishment of the position of the leader of the official opposition and the improvement of parliamentary oversight of the Executive.

Yesterday, in a joint statement by the co-chairs and spokespersons of the bipartisan team, Dr Amollo and Mr Murugara, the team noted that all the sticky issues will be referred to the two principals.

“The team has preliminarily discussed a framework for engagement and agreed that each party will develop its framework for harmonisation in our subsequent meeting,” they said in the statement.

Sensitive matters

They did not, however, field questions from journalists to shed light on other sticky issues, insisting that the issues at hand were sensitive.

“The committee resolved that its members would do everything to promote and not to undermine or jeopardise the talks. Equally we urge all the political players to refrain from statements that may be counterproductive,” said the co-chairs.
They are expected to hold the next meeting on Tuesday.

Parliamentary leadership from both camps disclosed that concerns were raised on the inclusion of Mr Keynan, a member of Jubilee party and Azimio coalition, to represent Kenya Kwanza in the talks, as well as inclusion in Azimio of Mr Pkosing, whose party leader John Lonyangapuo is working with the government, would be resolved by the principals.

National Assembly Majority and Minority leaders Kimani Ichung’wa and Opiyo Wandayi, respectively, as well as their Senate counterparts Aaron Cheruiyot and Steward Madzayo, said they could not agree on the duo’s membership during their preliminary meeting. 

“We have since chosen to refer this matter to the leadership of our respective coalitions in a view to having it resolved,”  Mr Wandayi said.

Mr Ichung’wa said the removal of any name from the list must be referred to the leadership and respective party organs.  

“This is an issue we cannot ably resolve, that’s why we’ve referred it to our party leaders and respective party organs for resolutions,” Mr Ichung’wa said. 

“We agreed to allow all the 14 members to have preliminary meetings as we await resolution by our respective party leaders,” Mr Madzayo added.

Mr Cheruiyot said the dialogue process started  “with utmost goodwill,” noting that there is a need to be respectful to each other to realise the best outcome for the country.

“What is most important is that we take this conversation off the trajectory that it was beginning to take where certain hardline positions had begun to develop,” the Kericho senator said.