Politically speaking, this week has been high octane due to the intrigues and infighting within the ruling Jubilee Party. In a move to assert his power over his Deputy President and those allied to him within Jubilee, President Uhuru orchestrated the removal of Senators Kipchumba Murkomen and Susan Kihika from the lucrative and powerful Senate leadership positions of Majority Leader and Chief Whip.
There’s talk that in coming days, a government of national unity will be formed, drawn from various political parties, most notably, Jubilee, Kanu and ODM. This week, Jubilee and Kanu formed a post-election coalition that paved the way for the appointment of Kanu Senator Samuel Poghisio to replace Murkomen. This comes after the 2018 ODM and Jubilee ‘handshake’.
Which begs the questions: Is opposition politics all but dead? Do governments of national unity promote or defeat democracy? Are political parties ideological or mere vehicles for securing power?
Ideally, political parties are organised groups of people who have the same ideology, who then popularise their ideas and field candidates for elections to get them elected and thereby implement the party’s agenda.
However, besides written manifestos that are not usually widely read or distributed, Kenyan political parties and indeed leadership have little to no ideology. And if they do, they tend to be tribe-based.
- 1 Jubilee plans to crack the whip on Ruto allies again
- 2 Jubilee suspends three city MCAs for being disloyal
- 3 Three Jubilee MCAs appear before disciplinary committee for undermining party's leadership
- 4 Jubilee, Nasa yet to fulfill poll promises
In other countries, political parties have very specific views on social welfare, citizen entitlements, taxation, environmental protection, foreign policy rights of minorities, among others. One would be right to question why Kanu and Kadu; NDP and Kanu; NAK and LDP; ODM-K and PNU; ODM, FORD-K and Wiper; or URP and TNA come together at different times in Kenyan political history?
Governments of national unity have a long history in Kenya. Following the fallout within the NARC government in 2005 after the constitutional referendum supported by President Mwai Kibaki and opposed by Raila Odinga, Kibaki, fired the Raila-led LDP faction which helped him win the presidency in 2002 from his government, and instead appointed a government of national unity from members of Kanu and Ford-People—parties that opposed his bid.
Three years later, another government of national unity was formed after the hotly contested 2007 elections and the subsequent poll violence that threatened to break up Kenya. This time, the GNU was formed under the national accord, which divided seats between PNU and ODM, with Kibaki remaining president and Raila becoming prime minister.
Under the 2008 GNU, the Cabinet was bloated with 42 ministers and 52 assistant ministers, making up 94 members. Parliament had 222 members. This is perhaps the reason the new constitution capped the number of Cabinet Secretaries to not fewer than 14 and not more than 22 and did away with the position of assistant minister. Interestingly, this position seems to have crept back with the establishment of Chief Administrative Secretary which is not founded on any law, especially Article 152 on the structure of the Cabinet.
Increasingly, it seems that governments of national unity are brought about after botched elections or for political expediency. They happen when factions within the governing party have irreconcilable differences, thereby opting to cannibalise the opposition to shore up numbers in Parliament; or when ruling party’s hand is forced by civil strife such as happened during the 2017 protests which led to the “handshake” in 2018.
In the current situation, those who believe that the 2017 elections were free and fair, will view a government of national unity as illegitimate because it includes those who were not elected under the party. Those who believe the elections were flawed, will proclaim that the government is illegitimate in the first place.
As such, Kenya needs comprehensive electoral reforms that will ensure electoral justice where above board elections are held and every party abides by the results.
Kenya finds herself in a precarious situation because there is a possibility there will be no opposition for the rest of the Jubilee term, crippling oversight of the executive on important issues such as the ballooning debt, corruption, government spending, impunity and abuse of power.
Opposition in a democracy is vital for constructive criticism of the government, restricting arbitrariness by the ruling party, protecting rights of the people, preparing an alternative government, and articulation of public opinion.
-Mr Kiprono is a constitutional and human rights lawyer. [email protected]