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Bipartisan talks dilemma as Azimio deadline looms

 Bipartisan committee led by Otiende Amollo and Gitonga Murugara during joint presser at Bomas of Kenya on May 10,2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The fate of the joint bipartisan talks committee between government and Opposition hangs in the balance after the Opposition side suspended dialogue last week and threatened to dissolve it.

The 14-member bipartisan team had committed to conclude their assignment within 60 days while giving itself a time-frame of one month to deal with urgent issues.

The issues included lowering the cost of living, audit of 2022 presidential poll results, measures to prevent interference with political parties and the reconstitution of IEBC.

Close to a month later, the committee does not seem to have agreed on anything during their on-and-off sittings which has turned into a theatre of contestation between the government and the opposition sides.

What was thought to be the avenue for reasoned debate when proposed by President Ruto on April 2 has grown into a game of cards, with the two sides accusing each other of frustrating talks.

Last month, Azimio withdrew from the talks after disagreeing on the committee's membership and protesting at the inclusion of Eldas MP Aden Keynan whom they said was a member of Jubilee, a constituent party of Azimio. The talks would resume later after the Kenya Kwanza dropped Keynan and replaced him with Saku MP Dido Rasso.

Last Tuesday, the Azimio side suspended talks for seven days over claims that Kenya Kwanza was 'not negotiating in good faith’.

A six-member sub-committee chaired by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna and his Bomet counterpart Hillary Sigei were to table a report to the team but this did not happen as it emerged that only the Azimio side had a report.

Will there be any healthy discussion and solutions of the demands from both the political divides? Both sides differ while political analysts cast doubts.

According to Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, the stalemate will only end after Raila and Ruto meet without using proxies.

Atwoli poured cold water on the talks, reiterating that they were of little significance in uniting the country.

"The bipartisan committee is of no value; it is only Raila and the President who can physically sit and agree on the way forward because they are stakeholders in this government,” he said.

He added: “There is no escape route for the opposition leaders or those in government, or workers, we must come together.”

However former Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu opined that the stalemate was cosmetic, claiming that there could be intense negotiations behind the scenes while the country was only being managed through the committee.

“They could be behaving that way because there are contentious issues that their bosses have not agreed on. When they finally agree, the committee will run smoothly but they will agree at the end,” he said.

He continued: “That is why our faction (Jubilee) has decided to support the government because we are not represented in the bipartisan team and will not be at the table to enjoy the fruits of negotiations,” he said.

However, embattled Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni said Kenya Kwanza was not honest in the talks and was trying to manage the country and the Opposition through their ‘cheeky actions’.

“Ruto is a man with two faces; in one face he claims to support the talks but on the other, he directs his foot soldiers to frustrate the same,” said Kioni.

Kieni MP Njoroge Wainaina denied that the President was frustrating the talks, saying that when Ruto proposed the formation of the committee, he was forthright and genuine, and called on the committee to deal with their differences internally.

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