It is Parliament or nothing, Ruto tells Raila on election talks

Azimio leader Raila Odinga and President William Ruto.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga (left) and President William Ruto.

Photo credit: AFP | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has told opposition leader Raila Odinga to agree to a Parliament-led initiative to resolve the post-election crisis or wait for the 2027 polls.

In a dramatic escalation of hardline positions that could scuttle the ceasefire the two leaders announced on Sunday, the President insisted negotiations will only involve lawmakers and dismissed Mr Odinga’s proposal for a process similar to the National Accord of 2008.

Mr Odinga wants the mediation to involve both MPs and individuals outside Parliament, but the President is adamant that the by-partisan process to address grievances, including the recruitment of electoral commissioners, must be within the law.

“We cannot hold talks outside the law, that is why I am saying we should allow our MPs to hold bipartisan talks in Parliament,”President Ruto said in Kwale County yesterday.

Warning he would not be held to ransom, Dr Ruto added: “If talks will not be held in Parliament, then they [Opposition] should wait for 2027 for them to [win power].”

The President repeated the same message while addressing public meetings in Nyandarua and Nakuru, where he launched a series of projects.

“I am all for demonstrations, but only if they will address issues around development, not creating positions for a few politicians,” Dr Ruto said.

Echoing Dr Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who had accompanied the President, added: “The Opposition should allow us to do our job. If they want to resume the protests, let them do them do so as long as they do not destroy property.”

The Kenya Kwanza leaders dug in as Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party named seven representatives to negotiate with the government.

Mr Odinga signalled a fresh push for constitutional review to address the “winner-take-all system” blamed for conflict after elections.

He rubbished President Ruto’s oft-repeated claim that the Opposition leader was seeking a way into the government through a “Handshake”, alluding to a pact Mr Odinga signed with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2018.

He termed Dr Ruto’s assertions as “hogwash” , insisting that his truce with former Mr Kenyatta was to secure peace and not to gain a position in the government. In his address at the Azimio Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting at Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos County yesterday, Mr Odinga listed eight terms of reference his side will advance at the talks, which he said should conclude within 30 days of the establishment of the Joint Task Force.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader outlined the coalition’s concerns with the ruling United Democratic Alliance’s exclusion of other communities in state appointments.

“This monopoly of power ... can only be rectified with a thoughtful deliberative process involving all Kenyans. We need a proper constitutional review to cure the governance defects in the 2010 Constitution and remove the last vestiges of an imperial presidency. In our dialogue with KK [Kenya Kwanza], we will be putting this matter on the table,” said the former Prime Minister.

His team of negotiators endorsed by the PG yesterday includes; ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, Senate Minority Whip Ledama Ole Kina and Deputy Minority Leader Enoch Wambua, MPs Otiende Amollo (Rarieda), David Pkosing (Pokot South), Millie Odhiambo (Suba North) and Amina Mnyanzi (Malindi).

He said the terms of reference of the team shall include; recommending measures to lower the cost of unga, fuel, electricity and school fees; conduct a review and forensic audit of the servers used by the IEBC before, during, and after the 2022 presidential election; review the appointment and dismissal of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners, including their tenure of office, and recommend institutional, policy, legal, and constitutional mechanisms, restructuring and reforms of the IEBC.

Others are; consideration for a restructuring of IEBC by devolving structures to the counties and whether the country really needs commissioners working on permanent basis; recommending legal, policy, and institutional reforms to strengthen and improve the electoral system; and processes to entrench a culture of free and fair elections administered in an impartial, transparent, simple, accurate, verifiable, and secure system.

The team will also seek a review of the circumstances that led to the dismissal of the IEBC commissioners, commonly known as the Cherera Four and to reinstate them in office; as well as a review and recommendation of changes in the law that will entrench party discipline.

Mr Odinga’s running mate in last year’s election, Ms Martha Karua, underscored the importance of holding talks akin to the National Accord of 2008 due to its neutrality and fairness.

“We don’t want an unorthodox process controlled by Speakers and legislators who have crossed to governments side.”

“Let’s not try to hide behind Parliament where the Speakers will decide which side has won,” Ms Karua said. Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Democratic Action Party-Kenya’s Eugene Wamalwa, ODM Deputy Party Leader Wycliffe Oparanya and Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni said the coalition will not cede its terms of reference. Mr Musyoka said they will not hesitate to go back to the people should their demands fail to be met.

“We can’t allow the capture of State institutions like police, Judiciary and Parliament. We also cannot condone continued poaching of [Opposition MPs to the government side] and claim that’s democracy,” Mr Musyoka said.

Saying protests were not completely off the table, Mr Wamalwa said: “Until the price of unga comes down, until the price of electricity and school fees comes down and the servers are opened, we are not yet there.”

Mr Oparanya said that, until the poll servers are opened, Kenyans will continue to exercise their rights to protest. Mr Kioni said Mr Kenyatta remains the Azimio Council chairman and is fully behind their plans.

The PG brought together governors and national and county House leaderships including Speakers of the devolved units.

Members also removed nominated MP Sabina Chege as the deputy Minority whip in the National Assembly.

Reporting by Justus Ochieng, Anthony Kitimo, Steve Njuguna and Joseph Openda