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Joint Chief Whips offer coalition a big lesson

By | June 17th 2009
By | June 17th 2009

By Alex Ndegwa

Government Chief Whips George Thuo and Jakoyo Midiwo are an example that partners in the Grand Coalition Government need not be strange bedfellows.

The joint Whips have maintained a cordial working relationship in Parliament, which contradicts the chasm between coalition partners, Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement.

Mr Thuo (Juja, PNU) and Midiwo (Gem, ODM) have a camaraderie that could offer useful lessons to other players in the coalition.

Whips are party ‘enforcers’, who offer inducements and punishments to members. They are concerned primarily with ensuring desired attendance for important vote.

Marshal support

The term ‘Whip’ dates back to the 18th century when party officials were likened to ‘hunters’ supposed to ‘whip in’ support and keep the ‘pack together’.

A photograph published in a local daily yesterday showed them at a secret location, thrashing out the latest headache to the oft-troubled union on the composition of House committees.

It symbolically captured their two compatriots’ zeal to close the fissure between the partners.

For nearly two months now, the Whips have carried out functions of the Leader of Government Business in the House, helping Parliament navigate through one of its most uncertain periods.

They have filled the vacuum in the wake of the tussle between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Kibaki over the chair of the crucial House Business Committee.

In a show of unity after the Speaker’s ruling, Thuo and Midiwo took turns to move procedural Motions before the House, normally the work of the Leader of Government Business.

It was also the first time, MPs who are not members of the Cabinet, assumed the responsibility.

Standing Orders bestow the responsibility on a minister nominated by the Government, and has traditionally been exercised by the Vice-President.

State recognition

Even President Kibaki has noticed their contribution and bestowed a State honour on them.

Last December, while marking Jamhuri Day, the President awarded them the Moran of the Order of the Golden Heart.

Speaker Kenneth Marende presented the medals to the two during a ceremony at Parliament’s Old Chambers.

Pressed by journalists whether they deserved the awards against the backdrop of defeat of crucial Government Bills, the Whips defended themselves, saying in the last 14 months the House had passed 21 laws.

"Only one was rejected, and we have no control over how MPs vote," Midiwo said then, referring to the resounding defeat of a Bill to establish a local tribunal to try post-election violence suspects.

A prominent UK lawmaker, says Whips work in a similar way to ensure Parliament, and political parties, work together to achieve the best political results.

Thuo and Midiwo have had to contend with the dangerous power play between PNU and ODM that often stalls crucial business.

New House committees should have been formed when the Tenth Parliament opened for the Second Session in April, but the rivalry between the two parties sabotaged the efforts.

Indeed, the Whips were expected to table the list containing members of the 27 House teams, in line with the Speaker’s directive, by last week.

Nevertheless, even in the latest stalemate, Thuo and Midiwo were reportedly said to have generally agreed on a tentative list, before a power feud erupted.

No easy task

One of their toughest tasks was to marshal support for the Government’s initial attempt to pass without amendments, against the wishes of most MPs, a law to disband the Electoral Commission of Kenya.

Despite two Kamukunjis attended by the President and the Prime Minister, the Bill could not garner the backing of combative MPs who frowned upon enormous powers vested in the Serena Team, to set up the interim electoral body.

In the end, the MPs had their way when the Government allowed a Parliamentary Select Committee to conduct the exercise.

However, it has not all been rosy for the two.

Party lines

They have sometimes been forced to retreat to their parties, like in March following the failed Kilaguni talks.

Midiwo then countered that PNU had pushed ODM to the periphery.

"It is nearly one year after we formed the Grand Coalition and we have to take stock. There are certainly some things that have not gone well not because of ODM but our colleagues who seem to want everything. We cannot continue being passengers," he said then.

Thuo fired back saying: "PNU was "striving to deal with the challenges but had been pushed into political bickering by ODM."

He challenged those uncomfortable to quit the coalition.

And Kangundo MP and deputy Chief Whip Johnstone Muthama says although the two seem to work together, wrangles in the coalition give a different picture.

"The relationship between the father and mother in the family is reflected in the children. Why then are we having the stalemate over the leadership of Government Business?" he asks.

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