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Why a political system should incorporate an official leader of the opposition

By Daisy Maritim Maina | Published Sat, January 13th 2018 at 00:00, Updated January 12th 2018 at 20:42 GMT +3
Opposition outfit NASA leader Raila Odinga addresses his supporters at a past rally in Kakamega Bus Park. [Benjamin Sakwa| Standard]

Once again, the Opposition has assured us that plans to swear in Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka are still on track. They have promised that this will happen before the end of January. For this, the Opposition team must be congratulated for being as persistent and tenacious as mosquitoes. But they must also be criticised for being as confused as cattle on astroturf.

And I say this because the Opposition has so far been painfully inconsistent in its words, and pitifully fickle in its actions. What they say will happen, does not happen, and what they say will not happen, happens. Case in point is the October 26, 2017 presidential elections, another is Raila’s December 12, 2017 swearing in, another is the economic boycott. Their actions have also been contradictory - they have formed a ‘strong’ resistance movement whose most visible effort has been producing slogan tee-shirts urging us to ‘Resist!’ How terribly disappointing.

But all this can be explained. You see, NASA is not operating within a stipulated framework. By this, I mean that since the real Opposition bosses are not tied to an office, a system or an institution, they are not accountable to anyone but to themselves. They are guided only by their ambition. This is precisely why their actions and words are inconsistent. Their intentions are a product of consensus meetings between a few men, conferring in a private living room in Muthaiga or a swanky nightclub on Waiyaki Way. The men then call press conferences to announce these decisions to their followers.

Because of the arbitrary nature of their decision-making processes, the political formations they use are fluid. These formations are periodically revealed like the results of a sweepstake: first it is the NASA Coalition, then the National Resistance Movement, and additionally The People’s Assembly, and even a geographical construction called ‘The People’s Republic of Kenya’. As the political bodies shape shift, so do their intentions: from self-determination, to enhanced devolution, to electoral reforms to constitutional change. The question then becomes, what are the Opposition’s real intentions? Which is the Opposition’s actual political vehicle?

Presently, the post August 8 options are no longer viable because the president has been sworn in, the nusu-mkate opportunity is long gone and Cabinet appointments are under way. One would therefore not be mistaken to think that the Opposition’s overriding intention at this point is simply to seek ‘relevance.’ And if this is the case, they are an enormous let down to the country. It means that the top leadership of the Opposition, left without an official channel to work in, is relegated to haphazard and perennial politicking. It means that they do not intend to positively contribute to governance as an ideal Opposition should.

Speaking of which, there are three important reasons why a political system should incorporate an official leader of the Opposition. First, the position is built on an institutional culture of strong political parties whereby leaders rotate in and out of power. Thus, if an Opposition leader fails to perform his/her functions, they are ejected from the seat and a new official leader of the Opposition takes over. Second, a powerful, constitutionally mandated Opposition leader is necessary to check the power of the ruling party; otherwise the quality of democracy is diluted. In India, for instance, the government is legally bound to consult the leader of the Opposition in the selection and appointment of critical public appointments. Third, because the Opposition is the government in waiting, they must operate within a formal framework that prepares them and their shadow Cabinet for taking over government one day. Without such a system, our NASA ‘government in waiting’ has been captured by one dominant political personality who has an unhealthy pre-occupation with destructive politics.

NASA’s incoherence is in large part, due to the misguided political system envisaged by the 2010 Constitution. The leader who gets the second highest number of votes does not get a seat in Parliament and thus does not become the Official leader of the Opposition. In this case, because Raila does not have a statutory mandate, he can only lead an incoherent protest. The Opposition’s agenda becomes dependent on the direction of a man whose sole interest is to secure himself a decent job. 

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—The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a research fellow at Fort Hall School of Government. [email protected]

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

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