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Disunity and defections could sniff life out of the Opposition

ODM leader Raila Odinga accompanied by Wiper's Kalonzo Musyoka and Narc-Kenya's  Martha Karua for an Azimio Parliamentary group meeting in StoniArthi Machakos County. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The face of Kenya’s Opposition is hazy and as factitious as the 26 political parties that form the Azimio la Umoja one Kenya Coalition party.

The promise of power grab and the sharing of plum State jobs, which is the glue that had been holding the parties together, has dissipated and can no longer stick. Things are slowly falling apart and the former allies no longer find it tenable to gather round a table to strategise.

The outcome of the August election has cast the opposition in sharp focus and now questions are arising on whether it can step forward and execute its mandate of keeping the government in check.

ODM leader Raila Odinga’s loss and swiftness with which some parties abandoned Azimio barely a week after the declaration of presidential results, raise doubts on whether there is anyone ready for the tough job of keeping the government on toes.

Although he remains politically active, the outcome of the poll demoralised Raila, who has single-handedly defined opposition politics in many years. There is consensus that no politician demonstrates the ability to organise, fight and push for reforms as he has done in the last four decades better than Raila.

At the height of his career, Raila was lordly and his word had the force of law that could destroy careers. A statement from Raila had the capacity to alter the cause of national politics. But those days appear to be fast fading.

Signs of the trouble for the opposition became apparent when President William Ruto lured parliamentary minority parties - UDM, MDG and Independent MPs to join his Kenya Kwanza Alliance without any regard to the Constitution and the relevant laws.

That every other person elected through the political parties that form the opposition is inching for boardrooms deals that will propel them to government demonstrates how the Kenyan opposition has become unpredictable.

The ODM leader has appreciated the challenge that faces the opposition as it seeks to check Ruto’s government and has promised to put together a partnership that enjoins the opposition, civil society, private sector, the press, the academia, faith-based organisations and labour movements to check the State.

Raila said the push to save the Judiciary from State capture, reforming IEBC and stopping the legislature from dalliance with the government are the key tasks that face the opposition as it starts to check the Ruto regime.

“It is these pillars of our society that will come up with proposals on how we will check the state,” Raila said when he addressed the Azimio PG meeting.

He said the country is at a crossroads and called on the constituent parties of Azimio to stay united, rally the other pillars and stop the regime from destroying the country.

“Parliament must stand up and preserve our multiparty politics. When the law doesn’t rule, thuggery does. In a government awash with thugs, we must not sit back and watch as political control is being exerted over the Judiciary, prosecution, civil service and police and election management body,” he said. Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who has been picked to lead the Azimio la Umoja troops in the National Assembly, dismissed any assertion that the opposition, in and outside Parliament faces a bleak future.

“Kenyans should know that the Azimio troops in Parliament are more than equal to the task ahead. We are in a familiar territory. We are ready to take the challenge under Raila and other Azimio leadership from outside the House to ensure issues of national concern are addressed,” said Wandayi. 

Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the only way the opposition can be rejuvenated is if Raila identifies and mentors a new crop of politicians who will take over the mantle.

“The ODM leader has run out of options. If he still has some, they are few and they are known,” said Bigambo, pointing out that Raila has come of age and can only engage his fights through organised groups like civil society groups, Parliament or even the new government.

“He has lost momentum in the push for reforms. He has long ceased being the rabble-rouser that defined his politics,” Bigambo claims. Suba Churchill, the Executive director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre blames the President for engaging in post-election gerrymandering with the aim of putting his Kenya Kwanza coalition at an advantage.

“While this made it possible to secure the speakerships of the two chambers of Parliament, the President’s stance remains one of the biggest threats to Kenya’s democracy as it undermines the capacity of the opposition to remain strong enough to hold his administration to account,” he says. Raila has not been in Parliament for the last 10 years and Wandayi argues that his absence has neither derailed nor slowed down opposition troops from performing their constitutional mandate.

“His troops pushed Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration hard especially in the first term.  We put Uhuru’s first term government under check under the same arrangement with Raila and his other principals out of Parliament. There is nothing new or difficult in the current situation,” Wandayi says. In western democracy, parliamentary and political party opposition is a form of leadership which is considered as important in protecting and serving the public as is service in a governing political party.

When it promulgated the 2010 Constitution, Kenya adopted the America –type presidential system of government. Under this system, the oversight of the executive is not limited to the minority or opposition.

Azimio is a coalition that brings together 26 constituent political parties. Besides, Raila, former President Uhuru Kenyatta is the chair of its highest decision-making organ called Azimio Council. Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua was Raila running mate at the poll, while Wiper Kalonzo Musyoka would have been the Chief Minister had the coalition formed government.