Why we need a strong opposition in office and shadow cabinet ministers

Raila Odinga is extremely limited in what it can effectively do outside Parliament and with no resources. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Prior to promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, Kenya had the official opposition in Parliament, a position that came with allowances and an office.

Between 1963 and 1969 we had a political opposition although after many defections and by-elections of 1969 any residual political opposition was stifled and Kenya remained a de facto one-party state until 1991 when the agitation for multiparty democracy reached its crescendo culminating in December 1992 multi-party elections.

Between 1993 and 2005 and 2007 we had some form of political opposition, though not as effective. This could be because the concept of political opposition as a healthy democratic manifestation never quite crystalised.

The opposition is viewed as a political inconvenience, unjustified critics hungry for power and bent on destabilising the government for their own political gains. It is also a fertile hunting ground for MPs by the ruling party/coalition. This has been a bone of contention.

Since we rejected the proposals by Yash Pal Ghai of an executive Prime Minister, indirectly elected with a ceremonial President directly elected, an all-powerful and winner-takes-it-all presidency remained.

Under the 2010 Constitution, presidential (and their running mates) candidates cannot vie for parliamentary seats as a consolation prize. This means the leader of the opposition coalition is not elected (MP or a Senator).

This complicates the concept of parliamentary opposition as the minority leader in Parliament is not effectively the leader of the opposition. This has a number of negative consequences. For example, the leader of the opposition cannot name his shadow cabinet comprising MPs paid by the exchequer.

While there is no law prohibiting the opposition leader from naming his shadow cabinet outside Parliament, there is also no law allowing it with budgetary allocations and it is difficult to manage an un-resourced shadow cabinet of unemployed politicians. Article 108 of the Constitution provides for the leader of the majority party as the person with the largest party or coalition of parties and the leader of the minority party as the person with the second largest party or coalition of parties in the National Assembly. It also provides for the order of precedence to be observed in the National Assembly as Speaker of the National Assembly followed by the leader of the majority party and then the leader of the minority party.

Article 108 does not provide for functions or role of the opposition. The Azimio-One Kenya Coalition led by Raila Odinga is extremely limited in what it can effectively do outside Parliament and with no resources.

Since he and his principals are outside Parliament it becomes difficult to whip their MPs in line and to enforce commitment to their ideology, agenda and principles. They are also not effective in Parliament, not only because of split loyalties by some but because of their leadership structure; no one in Parliament seems to wield sufficient power to persuade real action by MPs.

They also do not have an opposition spokesperson in Parliament. Therefore, they fall short in their role to effectively question the government and hold them accountable, scrutinising government policies, delivery of services, peace and security, and administration on the floor of the legislative chamber, through Question Time, Budget debates, debates on legislation, notices of motion and No Confidence Motions or by scrutinising new legislation, budget, and vetting processes, as part of the parliamentary committee process.

This is probably why the President was proposing a motion to create an official position for the opposition leader with an office and budget. This is noble, but without constitutional functions, budgetary allocation and protection is hollow.

Now the opposition is left with only the media to reach the electorate with its views and to establish an identity as an alternative government. The leader of opposition cannot also name and chair meetings of the shadow cabinet. Shadow ministers play a critical role in literally shadowing government ministers in their functions, duties, responsibilities and activities.

They also provide alternative policies to the electorate. Since we have two levels of government, the shadow government would also be represented in counties by a shadow county government with shadow members of county assemblies and county executives.

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