Return of opposition politics as leaders vow to keep William Ruto in check

A host of Azimio leaders led by coalition principal Kalonzo Musyoka

A host of Azimio leaders led by coalition principal Kalonzo Musyoka when they addressed media over President Ruto's speech in Parliament.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Unlike in the 12th Parliament, where there was barely any oversighting of the Executive, the election of President William Ruto has seen the return of high-octane opposition politics.

Since the March 9, 2018 handshake between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga, the rigorous debates that dominated the House when ODM was fully in the opposition were reduced.

Although the constitution bestows the role of oversight on Parliament, lawmakers elected on the ruling party ticket tend to support the government’s agenda in the House while the second largest party automatically assumes the role of the opposition.

With the start of the 13th Parliament, things seem to be off to a different trajectory as Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition members have pledged to keep President Ruto’s government in check.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who is one of the principals in the Azimio team, is emerging as the face of opposition politics as Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta work behind the scenes.

The Azimio leaders’ quick criticism of President Ruto’s speech to the joint sitting of Parliament is a clear indication that traditional opposition politics is making a comeback.

The team led by Mr Musyoka faulted him for failing to address pertinent issues affecting the country.

“The first campaign promise (by Dr Ruto) was to lower prices of commodities. But the prices of unga and electricity have all gone up. Only yesterday, when Ruto was making his address, CBK (Central Bank of Kenya) was raising the base lending rate from 7.25 to 8.25,” Mr Kalonzo said at a presser in Karen on Friday.

He added: “We expect this administration to honour their promise of lowering fuel prices. We want to propose austerity measures such as recovery of looted funds and restructuring of borrowed debt.”

Azimio politicians have pledged vigorously play their oversight role, starting with the vetting of the Cabinet nominees.

Nairobi Senator and ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said since the coalition is ready for a vibrant opposition, it will pay keen attention to the competence of the Cabinet nominees.

He added: “We cannot abdicate the strong mandate we have from the people to ensure that they get a government that will address our biggest concerns of lowering the cost of living, solving unemployment, and tackling corruption.”

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who is Azimio’s Majority Leader designate in the National Assembly, told the Nation that the opposition will not allow President Ruto’s administration to arm-twist independent institutions, noting that dangling more resources to the Judiciary is a sign of manipulation.

“For instance, the autonomy of Parliament is not given by the Executive. It exists in the very nature of government that has three arms mandated to check each other. For the President to state that he will guarantee the autonomy of Parliament weeks after coming up with funding for the Judiciary and the police without input from Parliament is a blatant attempt to manipulate these institutions. It is a process he started immediately he was declared the winner,” Mr Wandayi explained.

Claiming that the Kenya Kwanza administration has started on the wrong footing by failing to show commitment to fight graft, the legislator said the opposition wants the menace dealt with because its campaign was premised on zero tolerance to corruption.

“Ruto must assure this country that corruption will stop being a way of life and he must demonstrate this by dropping from his Cabinet line-up people who have pending corruption cases,” said the Ugunja MP.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said that although the Azimio team will play its oversight role diligently, if the Kenya Kwanza team wants to bulldoze its way into impunity, its actions will affect everyone.

“If Kenya Kwanza MPs vote to pass them (Cabinet nominees), they will not be punishing Azimio but their own children and the voters who trusted them. With such characters in the Cabinet, no country on earth shall ever overtake Kenya in graft cases,” said Mr Amisi.

However, the Head of State has recently taken actions that observers say could destabilise Azimio. Dr Ruto has said he is ready to work with the former Prime Minister.

“When Raila Odinga decides to retire, I think there are roles he can play as a Kenyan leader. He can support the country in other initiatives, in other areas, maybe in the Great Lakes region because he has contacts there,” President Ruto said in an interview last week.

Already, President Ruto has appointed his predecessor to lead peace efforts in the region.

Political commentator cum governance expert Javas Bigambo has described President Ruto’s appointment of President Kenyatta as “cryptic” and aimed at isolating and weakening Mr Odinga.

“It is a cryptic move aimed at reducing Uhuru's potential onslaught on the Ruto government. So far, Mr Odinga has not yet taken the front seat in organising the opposition or giving direction to his team. So giving Uhuru a job and leaving Raila out is also a strategy of isolation,” he said.

But Mr Odinga’s allies do not think that Mr Kenyatta’s new role in Dr Ruto’s administration will prevent him from engaging in opposition politics.

“Special envoy status does not prevent one from political participation. We have seen that with Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and even Baba,” said Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi.

Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University said that President Ruto is trying to earn the trust of his predecessor, which in the long run could work against the opposition.

“It was definitely meant for the moment and helps to create a sense of continuity. It is the American way of doing things.

Nandi Hills MP Bernard Kitur argued that President Ruto wanted to show that despite his humiliation under the previous regime, he is accommodative.