President Ruto firms grip on Parliament and opposition, one year on

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua with some Members of Parliament from Nyanza at State House, Nairobi, on February 10.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has maintained a firm grip on his administration in his first year in office, balancing the interests of key figures, as well as raiding the opposition to shore up numbers in Parliament where he now enjoys a near-absolute majority to back his projects and plans.

His style of politics became clear even before he was sworn in, when he engineered the defection of parties in Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, a trend he has sustained to date, even with continued accusation by the opposition that he is interfering with their outfits.

President Ruto succeeded in signing post-election pacts with some fringe Azimio parties including Mandera Senator Ali Roba’s United Democratic Movement and Ugenya MP David Ochieng’s Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG).

In October last year, following a protracted battle in Parliament, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula declared that Kenya Kwanza constitutes the majority in the House in a major win for President Ruto, who has shown indications of maintaining the stranglehold on the House.

In his ruling following a stand-off, he decreed that Kenya Kwanza has 179 members in the House against Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party’s 157.

The ruling handed president Ruto’s camp majority status from Azimio which initially boasted of 171 MPs against Kenya Kwanza’s 165.

Following his numerical strength in both Houses, the Head of State has successfully managed to pass crucial Bills including the controversial Finance Act, even as the opposition continues to accuse him of eroding the country’s democratic gains and forcing it to the negotiating table with Kenya Kwanza.

Political analyst Dismas Mokua argues that taking charge of the two Houses of Parliament substantially reduced probability of political conflicts and paved way for legislative reforms for economic stability under president Ruto’s administration.

“He also welcomed the establishment of the National Dialogue Committee as a strategy to take care of opposition interests and maintain the upward economy trajectory,” Mr Mokua says.

The Head of State has continued to juggle politics and governance, announcing grassroots elections in the party in December, clearly in preparation for the 2027 polls.

“This is the party that runs the government and that is why I’m announcing here in Nyeri to all members across the country that the elections will be held in December. We will announce the timetable for the elections. We want to eradicate tribalism and ethnicity from the party and make this a national party that reflects leaders from all tribes in Kenya. We want to unite the country,” Dr Ruto said last week.

But even as he appears to have succeeded on the Gachagua-Mudavadi front, the president seems to be facing strong opposition from the fringe parties forming Kenya Kwanza which have blatantly refused to fold.

Apart from Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria who publicly declared that he was folding his Chama Cha Kazi party, other major parties in the coalition including Mr Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya, Amani National Congress (ANC) associated with Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Senate Speaker Amason Kingi’s Pamoja African Alliance seem to have maintained a hardline stance.

“When UDA needed majority in parliament, it was the small parties which UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala has branded as village parties that came to its aid. We should respect all the parties forming Kenya Kwanza and not force them to fold,” Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa said last Week.

He was responding to the push by Mr Malala to have Kenya Kwanza parties fold. The suggestion has also faced hostility from Ford Kenya and ANC.

But Belgut MP Nelson Koech argues that President Ruto has simply institutionalised Kenya Kwanza.

“He has given MPs the respect they deserve as representatives of the people and engaged leaders from across the political divide. Today, MPs in the ruling coalition have freedom to question and criticise ministers without worrying about party positions.”

“Kenya Kwanza coalition holds frequent parliamentary group meetings as the President seeks to engage the elected leaders in government business,” the MP says.

The President, he argues, has even taken an unprecedented step in calling for party elections for the ruling party as part of enhancing internal democracy “because he believes that having a National Party is a prerequisite for an accountable government.”

President Ruto’s administration has also been accused of interfering with other opposition-allied political parties, a move that Mr Odinga forced as an item for discussion by the National Dialogue Committee over what he termed as an attempt to forcefully acquire former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party.

“It has been a year of disappointment and missed opportunities for the people. The country has witnessed brazen attempts by the Kenya Kwanza administration to reverse the democratic gains that were realised through a painful struggle,” National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi says.

He adds: “We have also seen a return of nepotism and cronyism in the management of public affairs.”

But Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro and his Nyaribari Chache counterpart Jaheer Jhanda, both allies of the president, see the last one year of Kenya Kwanza rule as exemplary.

“The President has done very well. There was a lot of heavy lifting required on the economic front and we are grateful the President has stabilised things.

“Among the most important achievements are in agriculture achieved thorough the government intervention of subsidised fertiliser, Hustler Fund, CBC implementation and much more. Kenya is headed in the right direction and the solid foundation is a catalyst for future prosperity,” Mr Nyoro says.

Mr Jhanda says, “No President has ever matched his (Ruto’s) style of good leadership. The president has stabilised the economy and we are on a positive trajectory,” he says.

But Saboti MP Caleb Amisi faults the president for trying his best in politics as opposed to good governance, which Kenyans expect of him.

“On politics he has tried but matters governance is different from politics and must be handled differently. He has mixed the two and therefore failed.”

The president has however not been gentle with the opposition’s anti-tax protests. Azimio leaders accused his administration of dictatorial tendencies by “suspending the constitution” on the right to protest and picket, and shooting protestors.

“The President has vowed that anti-government protests will not be allowed to continue amid threats by the opposition that it would resume street protests should the talks fail.

“The elections are over. You cannot look for leadership by using the blood of Kenyans and destroying their property,” he said.