What new coalition law portends for Raila, Ruto and Mudavadi

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga (ODM). [File, Standard]

The new coalition law offers major political parties pain and hope in equal measure as the August 9 General Election beckons. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the controversial Political Parties (Amendment) Bill, 2021 into law after his estranged deputy William Ruto appeared to have softened his opposition against it.

One of the most telling implication is that political outfits seeking to form a coalition party will have to submit their agreements by April 9.

The law also presents a new headache as it compels parties to register members for nominations. It has also given powers to the Registrar of Political Parties (RPP) to certify party membership lists and nomination rules.

Most parties do not have proper records of members while some illegally list voters as their members without their knowledge.

It is also emerging that Ruto, who initially strongly opposed it, has since realised he will need it to craft a coalition deal.

The DP, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang'ula are currently working on a coalition agreement that could see them have a joint presidential ticket under Kenya Kwanza Coalition.

The Bill easily sailed through on Wednesday during a special sitting that ran into the night after 28 delegations voted in support. Only three senators allied to Ruto voted against it after majority of his backers opted not to participate in what seemed a change of tack while Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, who is part of the newly-unveiled Kenya Kwanza Coalition, voted in support.

The DP’s new political partners would also require protection of the new law in benefiting from the political parties fund as the document spells out sharing formula for every party that participates in a general election.

A vicious fight over millions of shillings from the exchequer was at the heart of dramatic disintegration of the National Super Alliance (NASA) after ODM of Raila Odinga allegedly shortchanged its partners.

But the new law also threatens a nightmare in running party primaries as the outfits will be required to use a list of registered members. United Democratic Alliance (UDA) is likely to suffer since it will have to rush in registering members.

Majority of leaders backing Ruto are Jubilee Party members, who have informally defected to UDA.

Records at the RPP still indicate they are members of Jubilee, including sitting MPs in Ruto’s camp.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has since set April 16 - 22 to conduct party primaries. This implies that Ruto’s team and other parties have to prepare their register in the next two months.

The DP's allies in the National Assembly and the Senate viciously fought Clause 22 that provides for direct and indirect nominations.

Direct nomination involves voting by registered party members while indirect involves delegates certified by the RPP.

Yesterday, Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen warned rivals that they could be first casualties at the primaries.

Elgeyo Maarakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen addresing the press at the Senate Buildings, October 2020. [Elvis Ogiona, Standard]

“We have passed the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and effectively given Azimio the rope they wanted to hang themselves. Let no one come back crying to us after the April nominations,” said Murkomen.

The grand plan by Uhuru and Raila seeks to form a Narc-like coalition and needs the law to allow political parties field candidates jointly across the country under the coalition party.

The aim is to prevent self-cannibalisation of parties and candidates supporting the Azimio movement, through which Raila is expected to vie for the presidency.

Sakaja – who is now in Ruto’s camp – lifted the lid off the apparent change of heart, stating that they also seek to form a coalition in their quest to form the next government.

“We now need it. You are forming a coalition party, we are also forming a coalition party. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander,” he said.

“These rules will not be applied to only one side of the elections. It will be applied to both sides. If it is a bad law; it is going to be bad for everyone. If it is a good law, it is going to be good for everyone,” he added.

Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi claimed that Uhuru and Raila spent their energy in coming up with the law so as to accommodate Mudavadi and Wetang'ula in the former premier’s camp only for the duo to jump ship.

“Politics is strange. Uhuru and Raila spent huge political capital to pass the Political Parties Bill, so that Hon Mudavadi, Musyoka and Wetang'ula are accommodated in Raila's ODM and DP Ruto is isolated. The Bill is passed. Ruto will use it to accommodate all,” he tweeted.

Uhuru and Raila allies led by Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina and Jubilee coalition Joint Parliamentary Group Secretary Adan Keynan lauded the law.

Keynan said political parties now have a strong foundation upon which they could sanitise their internal political activities as they advance their partnerships into credible and inclusive coalitions.

"No matter how good any law is, its implementation in strict adherence to tenets of the Constitution guarantees its effectiveness. Political parties now have an elaborate legal regime to reform internally as they pursue national coalitions ahead of the polls," said Keynan.

"The beauty of this law is that it legally binds political partnerships in law to their respective coalition agreements and provides strong safeguards against deceit and political conmanship that previously dogged coalition formation,” he added.

Kina said the law will weed out non-party members from participating in primaries.

He claimed that their opponents have ended up using members of rival parties to influence party primaries.

Senator Ledama ole Kina during 'Point Blank' interview with Tony Gachoka, September 2019. [ Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

“For you to participate in any elections nomination you must be a registered member of a political party and the registrar of political parties must certify as much,” said Kina.

“The Bill means coalition parties can now be registered as a political party and field candidates in upcoming elections,” he added.

Implementation of the Bill will also be a big win for small political parties that have been struggling financially.

The Bill provides that 70 per cent of the fund be distributed proportionately based on total number of votes secured by each political party in the preceding election.

Another 15 per cent shall be distributed proportionately to parties based on number of candidates from special interest groups elected in the preceding general election.

Ten per cent will be shared out proportionately to parties based on number of representatives from the party elected in the preceding general election while the remaining five per cent is for administration expenses.

This means any party that participates in the polls will be entitled to a share of the funds as long as they secure votes. Currently, only parties that secure at least five per cent of total number of votes in a general election qualify.