Ruto, Raila allies dig in as Azimio meets over talks

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing journalists during Azimio Parliamentary Group Presser

Azimio leader Raila Odinga (centre) addressing journalists during Azimio Parliamentary Group Presser at Kalonzo Command Centre, Nairobi on April 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s allies have maintained hardline positions on the planned talks, even as the Azimio leader rallies his troops today to cement his position on dialogue.

Mr Odinga will today chair an extraordinary parliamentary group meeting at Maanzoni Lodge to be attended by the Azimio top leadership, the coalition’s governors, county assembly Speakers and the leadership of majority and minority Houses in various counties to seek their input to enrich their engagement with the government going forward.

Mr Odinga on Tuesday rejected an offer by the Head of State to have his coalition’s grievances addressed by a bi-partisan team in Parliament, instead calling for a process similar to the National Accord of 2008. 

This new twist, which came barely two days after calling a political ceasefire amid countrywide mass protests, now threatens to derail the talks.

Not negotiable

Yesterday, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi insisted that their push for the formation of a team comprising MPs and other professionals from outside Parliament is not negotiable even as Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot maintained that the government side is ready for dialogue strictly under the framework of Parliament.

“We shall only produce our dialogue list once it is appropriate to do so. We gave conditions that we want talks before the main talks to be concluded so that we agree on a framework to carry out this agenda,” Mr Wandayi said.

Mr Cheruiyot said they have already come up with their team for the talks and they will have a Kenya Kwanza parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday next week to ratify the names before they are made public.

“We have our team ready and we are just waiting for the Minority side to also do the same. We are ready for a team of seven or nine for each side,” he said.

Majority leaders Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wah (National Assembly) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate)

Majority leaders Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wah (National Assembly) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate). Mr Cheruiyot said they have already come up with their team for the talks and they will have a Kenya Kwanza parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday next week to ratify the names before they are made public.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

He accused Mr Odinga’s camp of shifting goalposts with fresh demands for talks outside parliamentary confines.
But Mr Odinga’s camp pointed an accusing finger at the government side for reportedly reneging on what had been agreed upon by their team of negotiators and only focusing on one point — the reconstitution of the electoral agency.

Mr Odinga has insisted that Parliament cannot address all their core issues including the cost of living, audit of 2022 presidential election servers, reform and reconstitution of the electoral agency and fidelity to the letter and spirit of multiparty democracy.
Mr Wandayi termed as ‘politicking’ claims that Azimio has shifted goalposts.

“That’s politicking to claim we have shifted goalposts but it is part of the dialogue in the public space. We are, however, awaiting the real talks to begin. It is not helpful for our counterparts to start engaging in needless chest-thumping. They should also know that we are not interested in any form of a handshake or sharing of power or engaging in the affairs of the government,” said Mr Wandayi.

Mr Cheruiyot said they will not be held at ransom by the former prime minister, insisting that any talks must be within the framework of the Constitution.

He said the Head of State extended an olive branch to the opposition for the sake of the country but that gesture should not be mistaken for weakness.

“We saw a man walking back on things agreed on Sunday. Asking for a process similar to the National Accord is a euphemism for nusu mkate. We were warned not to engage Raila as he will say one thing today and change the next time,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

“We are willing, ready and waiting to sit down with the opposition but everything will be done within the confines of the law. This conversation will be limited to things that were agreed on,” he said.

Not be cowed

The Senate Majority Leader maintained they will not be cowed by threats of return of maandamano.

“We will go to the negotiation table but it will not be based on threats. We are sitting together not because of any fear. Let them not imagine there is anything we fear and that is why we have come to the table,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Boni Khalwale added that calls to have the talks happen outside Parliament means Mr Odinga does not have confidence in his MPs.

“Let him name members of his team as we want to discharge this matter once and for all. The only organ with authority to say something with the force of law is Parliament and not any other place,” he said.
For her part, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tabitha Karanja called on the opposition not to politicise the exercise as nothing can happen without peace.

“Let us support and accommodate the talks initiated by the two leaders. We need peace for everything to work in the country,” said the Nakuru senator.

On the opening of servers, Mr Cheruiyot said the issue is beyond the purview of MPs as Parliament is not a custodian of servers or ballot boxes.
“In any case, the Supreme Court opened 46 ballot boxes in areas where Azimio had problems and no anomalies were flagged,” he said.

Senator Khalwale added: “The entity responsible for the servers is IEBC and not Wanjiku. Let Azimio stop hiding under demonstrations for servers to be opened.”

On the cost of living, Mr Cheruiyot said subsidies during the previous regime were a scandal as billions left the Treasury but never got to the millers.

Mr Khalwale noted that the problem of the high cost of living is global and not a Kenya Kwanza government problem.
Mr Wandayi reiterated that the coalition is not short of options in dealing with the current situation. 
“The sovereign power rests with the people. If the talks fail, we will go back to the people,” said the Ugunja MP.
Mr Wandayi said time is running out and whoever wants to listen to them should do so quickly.

“The talks before talks we are requesting is to assure the country that the pacts that will be agreed upon by the committee will not be watered down and should not be a subject of voting in Parliament.”

Mr Odinga had on Tuesday signalled a return to mass protests should the government fail to honour its side of the bargain.
“We assure our people and Kenyans that our eyes are firmly on the ball, and reiterate that we shall go back to the people as the earliest sign of lack of seriousness by the other side,” said Mr Odinga. 

The President’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and allied Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) have also hit out at Mr Odinga, accusing him of rocking plans for by-partisan talks by threatening a return to mass action. 
UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala and Ugenya MP David Ochieng'-led MDG said Mr Odinga seeks to hold the process at ransom. 

“Hon Raila Odinga, in his statement, has confirmed our worst fears that maandamano was in fact not genuine from the onset but a blatant thirst and hunger for power through the back door," Mr Malala said in a statement. 

In a statement, Mr Ochieng's MDG added: "It's baffling to see Azimio threatening fire and brimstone should Parliament be involved. This is ridiculous and a display of disdain Azimio's leadership has for parliament.” 

Additional reporting by David Mwere.