Ruto’s new plot to lure Raila’s MPs

Ruto and Roba

President William Ruto (right) exchanging documents with UDM party leader and Mandera Senator Ali Roba when the latter joined Kenya Kwanza from Azimio.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Topping the list of legislators being targeted are those who were in Kenya Kwanza before jumping ship to Azimio for the sake of winning elections, the ones who were frustrated by ODM during  nominations, those who are not happy with committee placements as well as those disgruntled by the opposition coalition’s leadership.
  • The President last week held a meeting with at least three Azimio leaders from Kakamega County and many believe it is a matter of time before the MPs jump ship.

President William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza Alliance appear to have hatched a fresh plot to weaken and destabilise Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga in Parliament, by extending an olive branch to some of the disgruntled lawmakers in the opposition camp.

In what is seen as a ploy to tighten his grip on both Houses not only through having his key allies in all leadership positions but also having an absolute majority, the President is targeting MPs from all the Azimio affiliate parties with key focus on Jubilee and Wiper, according to multiple sources.

Legislators being targeted in the new scheme are those who were in Kenya Kwanza before jumping ship to Azimio for the sake of winning elections, the ones who were frustrated by ODM during the nominations, those who are not happy with committee placements as well as those disgruntled by the opposition coalition’s leadership.

The clearest indication of this was the President’s meeting with Azimio leaders from Kakamega County, who accompanied Dr Ruto’s ally in Western Kenya, Mr Benjamin Washiali.

The opposition MPs in the meeting were Bernard Shinali (Ikolomani), Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) and Titus Khamala (Lurambi). The MPs, however, told the Sunday Nation that the meeting was about ‘development’ and not politics (see separate story).

This comes at a time when disgruntled coalition partners, the Jubilee Party and Kanu, have threatened to leave and seek a new political path. Interestingly, it is only a few days after the expiry of the three-month deadline of the clause in the Azimio deal that puts hurdles on any party wishing to exit.

In an interview with the Sunday Nation last month, Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi admitted that due to the politics of patronage, they were aware that immediately after Mr Odinga was not declared as the President, there was going to be a shift in power balance making it difficult to keep the membership intact.

“We knew it was going to be an uphill task to keep a significant number of members in Azimio because many at times MPs pursue selfish interest and there is this fallacy that if you identify with the Executive, then you stand to gain as an individual and your constituency,” Mr Wandayi said.

According to the ruling made by Speaker Moses Wetang’ula last month, Kenya Kwanza has 179 members in the House against Azimio’s 157.

This means that the ruling coalition has no absolute majority capable of pushing for any constitutional amendments, which need at least 233 of the 349 members.

Numbers in parliament are important for a party, or a coalition of parties is important to any president as it gives him the legroom to implement his policies and programmes with ease.

In addition, it allows his troops powers to approve or reject proposals with constitutional changes, as well as control key decisions, including approving or rejecting a referendum.

Deputy Majority Leader Owen Baya told the Sunday Nation that they are reaching out to anyone who is ready to push the ruling coalition’s agenda in Parliament.

He said those in Azimio who are unhappy in the manner in which they are being handled are welcome to Kenya Kwanza to push legislation which will better the lives of Kenyans.

The Kilifi North lawmaker disclosed that serious engagements with those in Azimio will commence immediately the political parties’ post-election coalition deadline expires.

“In fact we have been waiting for the expiry of the political parties’ post-election coalition deadline to start serious talks on getting more parties to Kenya Kwanza.

Now that members are free to move from Azimio to Kenya Kwanza, we wish to extend a warm hand of welcome. Those that feel mistreated in the Azimio coalition welcome them. They will be happy with us,” Mr Baya.

Already, there are fears over the stability of the coalition as November 9 marked 90 days after the General Election, allowing any of the 26 Azimio affiliate parties to kick-start the process of parting ways.

Article 22 of the Azimio coalition agreement states that any party within the coalition may quit upon giving 90 days’ notice to the coalition’s council.

This will be the second move by President Ruto to weaken the opposition despite calling for a vibrant oversight after appointing his predecessor to spearhead peace initiatives within the East African Community region.

With Mr Kenyatta being the chairman of Azimio, political pundits are of the view that Dr Ruto is trying to be nice to his predecessor, which could make him in an awkward position to criticise the government that has given him responsibility as a regional mediator.

Sabina Chege

Nominated MP Sabina Chege this week led Jubilee MPs in threatening to ditch Azimio over political mischief from ODM.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Already, Azimio affiliates United Democratic Movement (UDM) and the Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) parties joined Kenya Kwanza, giving Mr Ruto control of the Senate and the National Assembly.

Majority Whip in the National Assembly and South Mugirango MP Silvanus Osoro told the Sunday Nation that they embrace democracy and those who are discontented in Azimio are the ones they will look for to join them.

“If one is sad, we will give him or her comfort in Kenya Kwanza. Our coalition is founded on truth, no commanship,” Mr Osoro said.

In the strategy, Kenya Kwanza is also planning to take advantage of the leadership wrangles in Azimio to lure members of the affiliate parties to work with them.

Jubilee lawmakers on Thursday said they will soon convene an urgent parliamentary group meeting to review its relationship with other coalition partners.

The Sunday Nation has learnt that the meeting will be convened before the end of this month or after the lawmakers have started their Christmas recess scheduled for December 1 to maximise on attendance.

Sources in the party indicate that while Jubilee might not move out of Azimio, it will offer ‘lukewarm’ support to any agenda championed by Azimio in parliament.

Jubilee Party threatened to pull out of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition after its nominee was locked out of the lucrative Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC).

Jubilee MPs Sabina Chege (nominated), Adan Keynan (Eldas), Sarah Korere (Laikipia North), Abdul Haji (Garissa), Ruweida Mohamed (Lamu East), Amos Mwago (Starehe), Fatuma Dulo (Isiolo) and Abdi Shuriye (Mbalambala) protested the move accusing ODM of treating them as second class partner in the coalition.

“We are very saddened by the political antics of our partners in Azimio. We were not coerced to join Azimio. We joined willingly and we will leave willingly because we have witnessed political banditry first hand,” Ms Korere said.

Jubilee is also reportedly not happy with the Azimio leadership after Mr Keynan was denied an opportunity to be the chairperson of the PIC-Commercial Affairs and Energy committee, which went to Pokot South MP David Pkosing.

The party argued that since it was the second largest in the coalition, the powerful committee ought to have been reserved for them after ODM bagged the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which went to ODM chairman John Mbadi.

Last month, MPs from Wiper teamed up with their counterparts in Kenya Kwanza to save Tourism CS nominee Peninah Malonza from the jaws of Azimio who wanted her rejected.

Kenya Kwanza believes they can build on this relationship to foster a more tight working relationship with Wiper MPs going forward.

According to Belgut MP Nelson Koech, another senior member of President Ruto’s inner circle, the government side will approach individuals who are ready to support their agenda for the well-being of hustlers.

“On anything that will require working for Kenyans, we will always reach out to our friends who feel that their space is not there. We are political, therefore, we will reach out to those ready to cooperate with us for the betterment of Kenyans,’ Mr Koech said.

Kipkelion West MP Hillary Koskei said there is no problem with MPs from the minority side supporting the agenda of the government.

“If there are MPs from the other side that will see the good things that the government is doing and want to support, what is the problem with that? The President has said many times that he wants to build a better Kenya not for him but for all Kenyans and if there are MPs that want to come to support our agenda, what is wrong with that? he posed.

Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu did not rule out the possibility of Kenya Kwanza reaching out to people from the Azimio but said he cannot succumb to such a call.

“That is possible because this is politics but as for me, they can’t reach out because of my strong stand which is known,” Dr Mulu said.

Ms Chege, the National Assembly Deputy Minority Leader, said members are free to make their independent decisions.

“Here members are independent and make their own decision but I hope we will remain united so that we can oversight the government because if we all go, who will do the oversight role?” Ms Chege said

Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo said he has not been approached or called by anyone terming his colleagues who will succumb to such a scheme as weak

“I have not been approached but if they are targeting some of our members, they must be targeting weak people. I will support issues on the floor of the house based on principles,” Mr Odhiambo said.

In the plot, chairpersons of key committees such as the Budget and Appropriations have been urged to be as consultative as possible with the Azimio lawmakers, a move seen as extending an olive branch to Mr Odinga allies to support President Ruto’s agenda in the House that will require budgetary allocations.

Immediately after his election as budget committee chairman, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said the committee will work as a team and that all their decisions will be consultative and there will be no political formations.

“Every decision reached in this committee will be a product of consultations by all members,” Mr Nyoro said.

On August 18, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua disclosed that he had held a meeting with those elected on Jubilee Party and promised to support the government's course immediately after Kenya Kwanza formed government.

“As Kenya Kwanza, we have 163 MPs, those elected as independent, 10 out of 12 have joined us and we will nominate other six and in Azimio camp, there are around 25, 19 who are supporting us, they are just waiting for William Ruto to be sworn-in because they have remained with Uhuru since they were afraid to be arrested every weekend. I have been with them and they are strongly with us,” said Mr Gachagua.

The President has repeatedly ruled out any possibility of a political ‘handshake’ with his rivals citing the need for ‘a strong opposition’ to keep his administration in check, but has been reaching out to Azimio MPs in bid to isolate Mr Odinga.

Political commentator Javas Bigambo has described Dr Ruto’s move as ‘cryptic’ aimed at secluding Mr Odinga to the advantage of his presidency.

“It is a cryptic move aimed at reducing Uhuru's potential onslaught on the Ruto government. It seems that Uhuru has arrogated to himself the chief opposition leader role. 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 isolating,” said Mr Bigambo.

He adds that with the possibility that both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are not likely to go for elective seats in 2027, the duo will not put their resources in the opposition.

“Strangely, neither Raila nor Uhuru will be in elective politics in 2027. That makes them less keen on spending lots of resources in organising the opposition teams,” said Mr Bigambo.

But Mr Odinga’s allies have dismissed Mr Kenyatta’s new role in Dr Ruto’s administration saying that it will not prevent the former head of state from engaging in opposition matters.

“I do not think the strategy will bear fruit in weakening the opposition. 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.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said Dr Ruto was just after making fun of his former boss hence the strategy to destabilise opposition will not yield any fruit.

United Democratic Alliance (UDA) chairman Johnson Muthama without confirming the scheme said from both sides, there are individuals who will be unhappy, therefore, the moves will be made depending on what they feel. 

“We came from different political organisations to reach where we are now. It makes no difference if we do what we had done before to get where we are going. Therefore, both in KKA and Azimio, there will be individuals who will feel quite dissatisfied in either of the coalition to move to others or make another coalition depending on what they feel,” said Mr Muthama.

Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University opines that Dr Ruto is after earning the trust of his predecessor, something which could work against the opposition in the country.

“It was more of a calculated way of trying to say I have no vendetta, no ill-will. We shall respect you as the outgoing President. It was definitely meant for the moment and that helps in creating a sense of continuity.”