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Raila petition ruling to herald big shift in the centre of power

Supreme Court Judges during the hearing of Presidential Petition at Mlimani Supreme Court on Thursday September 01, 2022. [Samson Wire. Standard]

Tomorrow's judgment by the Supreme Court of Kenya (SCOK) on the presidential election petition (2022) could upset the power matrix in Kenya, with far reaching consequences for power wielders on both sides of the political divide.

If Dr William Ruto's declaration as president-elect is upheld, there will be a major shift in the centre of power. It will bring forth new sheriffs in town, while concurrently producing orphans and widows, out of individuals who have been the lords of power in recent times.

And if it goes according to Mr Raila Odinga's prayers, those on the side of President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Azimio political formation and by extension current wielders of power, could heave a sigh of relief with a sense of the promise for continuity. But it will all boil down to whether, in the case of a rerun, Odinga becomes the eventual victor.

For Kenya Kwanza, things could still turn nasty should the Supreme Court nullify Dr Ruto's election. The ensuing uncertainty about a repeat election could generate significant panic and hesitancy in the alliance deals that have recently been entered. And the emerging magnetism around the president-elect could begin vaporising, thus putting in doubt his scheme to control Parliament. Some of those he has recently won over could place on hold their support for him.

For, the most significant thing about power is its pull. The pull of power, or power of power. Those who wield it become attractive, those who lose it are consigned to the cold corners of irrelevance and oblivion. Even before SCOK pronounces itself on the presidential election petition, there have been migrations from the Azimio coalition to Dr Ruto's corner. While the future remains uncertain, Ruto has basked in an uneasy glory of sorts, and the time is nigh, when it must hold or begin falling apart.

In the event of a Ruto win, among those to watch in the power shifts are Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Dr Fred Matiang'i and his Principal Secretary, Dr Karanja Kibicho. The two have straddled the national landscape like the proverbial leviathan. They have been at the command base that has spread all the way into the National Intelligence Service, the Kenya Police Service, and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, complete with their topmost leaderships.

The shifts will be expected to go beyond the normal eclipsing of one team of leaders by an incoming one, on account of the vexed relationship between the presumed outgoing team and the team that takes over. At both the official and human levels, relations between the president-elect and the Interior CS with his team have been openly hostile, beginning in 2019, when President Uhuru Kenyatta made Matiang'i a de facto super CS and put him in charge of coordination of Cabinet affairs. Matiang'i has since been the centre around which power in the country has gravitated, outside the presidency.

A Ruto victory tomorrow, therefore, could send Dr Matiang'i back to the quiet places he operated from before April 2013, when he was named the first CS.

Already, the realignments have begun showing and the verdict from SCOK will either consolidate, or shake them.

The determination of the matter by the court, will either cement Ruto's emerging role as the most powerful person in Kenya, or alternatively consign him back to the bottom of Kenya's rocky political mountain, to have another go at becoming the president and commander-in-chief of the defence forces of the republic.

Arguments have been raised around the probability of the court declaring Mr Odinga the winner of the August 9 election, and the president-elect.

The Odinga petition placed itself in an awkward place by approbating and reprobating at the same time. His lawyers impugned the election as 'irredeemably flawed.' That is to say that it was defective to the point that nothing could possibly give it a semblance of credibility. Yet, at the same time, they still went on to pray that the court should declare Mr Odinga the winner and, accordingly, the president-elect, to be sworn in on September 13.

The petition became the mouth that ate up itself, by asking to be crowned out of decay. Even the judges wondered how this could be possible. In their responses to the judges' questions at the end of their arguments before the Supreme Court, the Azimio legal team did not quite answer this question.

Should the Azimio team get an annulment of the presidential election, with a call for a fresh election, in line with the Constitution, a return to the starting point would be the ultimate test of loyalty for those who have recently migrated to Kenya Kwanza, with the fight to control the two houses of Parliament as the entry point. Officially, Azimio has a marginal numerical edge over Kenya Kwanza in both chambers of Parliament.

Yet, the declaration of Dr Ruto as the president-elect by the IEBC chairperson, Wafula Chebukati, on 15 August has galvanised migrations to his camp, giving him an unofficial majority of numbers in Parliament. There have been notable migrations by UDM MPs led by Mandera County senator elect Ali Roba with seven MPs. Also believed to be counting themselves with the president-elect are 10 of the 12 independent members elected in the August 9 election, and Ugenya MP, Mr David Ochieng, who was elected on the Movement for Development and Growth (MDG) party ticket.

These members are expected to join their Kenya Kwanza counterparts, to give Ruto, if the court upholds his election, a level of comfort in parliamentary business. The comfort comes, especially, out of the fact that MPs vote as individuals, and not in blocs as members of political parties, or coalitions. While their parties may technically remain in Azimio out of restriction by legalistic considerations, these MPs can still vote with Kenya Kwanza, a matter that will be brought to test in a few days' time, when the 13th Parliament convenes.

The first business after the swearing in of the members is election of the speaker. Azimio, in the event that Ruto's election is upheld, is set to propose Wiper Democratic Party leader and former VP, Mr Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, for Speaker of the National Assembly. For, Mr Musyoka cannot then become the Chief Minister as he had hoped for in an Azimio government. In the event that the country goes to a repeat presidential election, however, Azimio may have to float a different name, while Mr Musyoka continues to hope that they will this time win the presidential election and he is appointed Chief Minister.

The defections from Azimio to Kenya Kwanza herald what could be in wait for Mr Odinga, in the event that the election result is upheld. The migrations are essentially inoculations against further desertions that could mature into political aloneness, if not loneliness for one of Kenya's most colourful politicians over the past three decades.

At the age of 77, with five unsuccessful presidential bids behind him, a Ruto presidency could, for Mr Odinga, very well mark the end of the road. It could signal the call for a new leader in Luo Nyanza, where the Odinga family has been the most eminent political family since the colonial days. With it too could be the first signs of the end of a political dynastic era in Luoland, barring the casting of a new, younger and mercurial Odinga into the arena. That leader is unlikely to be either of Raila's recently elected siblings (Ms Ruth Odinga, Kisumu County Woman MP-elect, and Dr Oburu Oginga, Siaya County senator-elect).

Sitting pretty is Bungoma senator elect, Mr Moses Wetang'ula. Kenya Kwanza is putting forward his name for Speaker of the National Assembly, regardless of tomorrow's determination by the Supreme Court. The coalition, on Friday, held a high-level meeting at the president-elect's official residence, in Karen, where he has lived as the deputy president. The meeting unanimously cleared the matter of Wetang'ula as their choice for Speaker. With the numbers amassed from other formations, Mr Wetang'ula's election is all but a forgone matter.

It is not clear who the two factions, Azimio and Kenya Kwanza, will be forwarding as deputy speaker for the National Assembly, and indeed for the Senate, too. Whatever the choices, the election of Speaker is going to be their first test of might and loyalty. Azimio is expected to put forward Mr Kenneth Marende for Speaker of the Senate, while Kenya Kwanza is not yet known. Their fate is tied up in the same knot as that of the Speaker of the National Assembly.

Away from Parliamentary affairs, there will be a repeat show of might on the campaign trail, should the election be nullified. Dr Ruto would expect significant support from those who have recently defected to his side, complete with their support bases. He will count on both those who were elected and those who lost their election, but have joined him, for every vote matters. According to the election result that was declared by Mr Chebukati on August 15, Dr Ruto crossed the 50% plus one vote by just under 70,000 votes. The repeat poll, if there is one, will be an equally tight race in which he must pull up all stops, to retain his win.

Separately are those who are hopeful that they will not shed premium tears on Monday, on account of their association with Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga. They constitute a rich slate of senior political leaders from both sides. These men and women have spared nothing that they could give in their campaigns for Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto. The least they expect is to be a part of the government, if all goes well for their candidate. Either way, however, some premium tears will be shed tomorrow, when the court returns its verdict. For the same reasons that some will celebrate, others will cry.