Standoff as Raila Odinga, William Ruto teams claim majority side in House

Raila Odinga and President William Ruto

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga (left) and President William Ruto during a past event. The two are spoiling for a supremacy contest after their two political coalitions picked House majority leaders to preside over the business in the National Assembly. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga are spoiling for a supremacy contest after their two political coalitions picked House majority leaders to preside over the business in the National Assembly. 

Azimio yesterday held that they are legally and legitimately the majority coalition in the National Assembly, while President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza dismissed the assertion.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, as per the outcome of the August 9 General Election, has a slim majority of 173 seats over Kenya Kwanza Alliance’s 164 members in the National Assembly. The other 12 MPs of the 349-member House are independents.

Kenya Kwanza has, however, signed post-election agreements with Azimio-affiliated parties that have on paper increased their National Assembly membership to 175, against Azimio’s 162. The post-election agreements are, however, not legally binding since a political party can only enter into a new coalition agreement after formally exiting an existing one.

The majority side is essentially the side that takes control of all House departmental committees like Finance and National Planning, Health, Education, Land, Labour, Trade, Industry and Cooperatives among others, making it the key facilitator of parliamentary business.

Oversight committees

The coalition or party that does not form the government, on the other hand, is the one that takes up leadership of oversight committees; the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Public Investment Committee (PIC). If this tradition has to be adhered to, it means that Azimio will take up both House departmental and oversight committees.

“The implication of having a majority to us will mean that we will be chairing nearly all the committees. Oversight committees are chaired by the coalition not forming the government. This is why they are doing all manner of things including buying MPs to justify their numbers,” said Kitui Central MP, Makali Mulu.

The leadership of the two coalitions yesterday traded barbs over the matter, with each party seeking to justify their positions.

“This is not a matter for determination by any individual or office; it is simple arithmetic. Members of Parliament belonging to the Azimio-OKA coalition have been properly advised to take up majority roles and responsibilities in and out of the National Assembly chamber,” said Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka at a media briefing in Nairobi.

Speaking in Naivasha, however, President Ruto said Kwenya Kwanza has the majority members since MPs who defected to the alliance just before and after elections had severed their relations with the Azimio coalition.

President Ruto signed pacts with Senate Speaker Amason Kingi’s Pamoja African Alliance, ex-Machakos governor Alfred Mutua’s Maendeleo Chap Chap, Mandera Senator Ali Roba’s United Democratic Movement, and Ugenya MP Dave Ochieng’s Movement for Democratic Growth.

“I have heard them try to say they have some numbers, if you cannot even raise a candidate for the Speaker of the Senate what numbers do you really have? Let’s be honest with ourselves, there is no need to bring a contest where there is none,” said President Ruto While addressing Kenya Kwanza lawmakers in a retreat in Naivasasha. “We’re going to have the leadership of the House….we are going to (deliberate) on who will be the leaders of the majority in the National Assembly and Senate,” he added.

President Ruto picked Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa as the National Assembly Majority Leader deputised by Owen Baya (Kilifi North) with South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro taking up the Majority Whip and will be deputised by Marsabit Woman representative Naomi Waqo.

In the Senate, the President rewarded his close ally and Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot by naming him as the Senate Majority Leader. Mr Cheruiyot will be deputised by Tabitha Karanja (Nakuru).

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale was picked as the Senate Majority Whip, with Samburu Senator Steve Lelegwe deputising him. The President handed all the House leadership positions to members of his United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Lucrative positions

The Sunday Nation established that the names which were presented for endorsement by the lawmakers were prepared by the Head of State, despite many individuals expressing interests for various positions. None of the MPs from Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC), Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya and other affiliate parties were picked for the lucrative positions.

In Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, ODM chairman John Mbadi protested the lineup after Mr Odinga dropped him from the list.

Mr Mbadi had been mentioned as a preferred candidate for the National Assembly Majority Leader under the coalition and was on Friday endorsed by a group of ODM members for the plum position.

“I am disappointed by the decision of my party leader and the coalition. I never thought that this is how loyalty is rewarded. I am not taking this lying down,” said Mbadi, who told the Sunday Nation that he will issue a comprehensive statement later.

In the lineup released yesterday, Azimio named Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi (ODM) as its Majority Leader in the National Assembly, with Kathiani MP Robert Mbui (Wiper) as his deputy.

Suna East MP Junet Mohammed (ODM) was named as Chief Whip, with nominated MP Sabina Chege (Jubilee) taking up the deputy whip slot.

In the Senate, Azimio picked Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo (ODM) as the Minority Leader, with Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua (Wiper) as the deputy. Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dhulo (Jubilee) has been picked as the Senate Minority Whip and will be deputised by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna (ODM).

Mr Sifuna had initially been proposed as the Senate Minority Whip before he was dropped and handed the lesser plum deputy slot.

Mr Mohammed was also initially angling for the National Assembly Majority Leader but was handed the Majority Whip amid sustained opposition by a section of the lawmakers under the coalition.

“I must have done a good job in the previous parliament to be retained in this position. I am very grateful for my coalition and my party leader,” said Mr Mohammed.

Asked why Mr Odinga settled on him, Mr Wandayi said he was equally surprised like the rest of the coalition members. “I am also surprised like anybody else. I have no idea how the decision to pick me was arrived at. I'm just grateful that he identified me. I want to thank the party leader for identifying me to lead the Azimio troops in parliament and I want to promise that I will not disappoint him and my colleagues,” said Mr Wandayi.

An MP serving his third term said Mr Mbadi was dropped because he had already been given a nomination slot hence it was going to be too much to again be given the leadership slot.

"Had the decision been subjected to voting among members, the results would have been different. Some of those announced cannot lead the aspirations of Azimio," said another MP.

Regional balance

The lawmaker disclosed that the Maanzoni meeting failed to reach a conclusion on the line up hence the party leaders were given the mandate, with different names, to settle on the final list. Interviews with Kenya Kwanza MPs who attended the Naivasha retreat described the naming of the lineup as a delicate balancing act that required having leaders picked from various regions.

“President Ruto looked at the regional balance as well as loyalty to the coalition. Competence also played a key role in arriving at the list. He told us that Parliament will be the fulcrum of his administration’s development agenda,” said Nandi Hills MP Bernard Kitur.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech added that: “We were looking at the regional balance with our House leadership.”

It has also emerged that those who have been given House leadership, their counties will not get Cabinet slots with some of the senior UDA leaders such as Elgeyo Marakwet Kipchumba Murkomen, Aden Duale (Garissa Township) and Alice Wahome (Kandara) left out of the plum jobs could be heading to the Cabinet.

“We are a coalition which prides itself in consultation and we want the interests of every region catered for. Those who have featured in the House leadership, their home counties might miss a Cabinet slot and that will be regional balance,” said an MP from Western.

President Ruto has formed a special committee of Kenya Kwanza headed by his deputy Rigathi Gachagua to look at the issue of who will be in the House committees.

The head of state told his team that those who will have expressed interest in being chairperson and vice chairpersons of various committees will not be allowed to be in more than one committee noting that everyone has to benefit.

“The boss told those who are eyeing the position of chairs of various committees that they will not be allowed to be in more than one committee so that everyone gets a premium committee. The special committee formed and will be chaired by the deputy president has been given the mandate to place people in committees and we have already filled forms,” said another MP.

Friday’s day-long Azimio retreat at Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos resolved not to cede ground on the coalition’s position as the majority in the National Assembly.

Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu yesterday appeared to have withdrawn herself from the looming dispute by tossing the responsibility to Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, who is a member of Kenya Kwanza.

Ms Nderitu yesterday told the Sunday Nation that the discussion on which coalition forms the Majority and Minority was now beyond her office and can only be resolved on the floor of the House.

“It is the speaker of that House to determine. Let them have that discussion on the floor of the House. They already have a speaker who is the head of Parliament,” Ms Nderitu said.

Speaking in Mombasa after closing the Council of Governors’ conference, Speaker Wetang’ula said he would rule “impartially” on the dispute between Azimio and Kenya Kwanza.

Garissa Township MP Aden Duale was bullish yesterday, telling Azimio to forget the Majority side and instead take up the minority.

“Let them take the minority. They better accept it. That matter will be decided by the speaker. We have the numbers and they know that,” said Mr Duale.

Senators Moses Kajwang’ (Homa Bay) and Godfrey Osotsi (Vihiga) said there was nothing to be decided by the Speaker on the matter as it is about numbers and not someone’s opinion.

“We are not going to cede. Standing orders are on our side. The speaker will have no basis to rule otherwise because he will be guided by the House standing order,” said Mr Osotsi.

Reporting by Moses Nyamori, Onyango K’onyango, Samwel Owino, Nicholas Komu, Macharia Mwangi and Stella Cherono

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