Next President faces tough job whipping MPs to do his bidding

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament, 2017. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The August 9 General Election is set to usher Kenya into a new and intricate experience with multiparty democracy. The elections herald the arrival of the dominant ethnic political party that must have its way in the Legislature.

The inverse is the death of the dominant nationalist party behemoths that have previously straddled the national landscape and had it their way in Parliament. Super political party majorities in Parliament are clearly on the way out. 

The giant Jubilee party of the 2017 elections has fragmented into a dozen or so minion formations, with the William Ruto-led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) as the biggest of them. It is also the only close semblance to a national outfit from the Jubilee family, the rest (including what is left of the Jubilee mother brand) have been reduced to regional parties.

Dr Ruto’s effort to railroad Jubilee rebel parties into UDA has, however, proved risky to his presidential dreams. His trusted lieutenants have openly defied him and criticised the effort as dictatorial. Ruto has had to come to terms with the emerged reality. He has eventually accepted to work with his associates through the Kenya Kwanza coalition and even welcomed onboard the ANC and Ford-K parties under this understanding.

ODM leader Raila Odinga with President Uhuru Kenyatta at Kasarani during the party's NDC, February 2022. [File, Standard]

Elsewhere, the Uhuru Kenyatta-Raila Odinga Azimio la Umoja is swelling across the country like the snowball, at the expense of what is left of Uhuru’s Jubilee Party and Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Party. As Azimio and Kenya Kwanza gain ground, it is now an open secret that there will be no supermajorities in Kenya’s 13th Parliament. Whoever takes over from President Uhuru faces the daunting task of whipping MPs in line, if they are to legislate after the desire of the Executive.

President Uhuru has distinguished himself for his effortless ability to have it his way with the 12th Parliament, on account of Jubilee’s supermajority in both chambers of Parliament. When Ruto led nearly half of Jubilee into rebellious space, Uhuru replaced their support with partnerships from ODM, Wiper Democratic Party, Kanu and Amani National Congress (ANC). Probably unbeknown to the top political leadership, this was the start of a new way of doing business in Parliament. 

Regardless of the presidential outcome in the competition between Raila and Ruto, Kenya’s next president faces a hard time with legislation. The various political fragments that make up the two giant alliances of Azimio and Kenya Kwanza are set to make demands and place down conditions on which they will support the government of the day. Gatundu South MP, Moses Kuria put it snugly while resisting the urge to collapse into UDA the parties that support Ruto, “We have been on that road before. We know what lies ahead. We cannot make the same mistake again.”

Kuria was referring to the 2016 merger of 16 political parties into the Jubilee steamroller. Leading outfits like Uhuru’s The National Alliance (TNA) and Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) folded up. They were joined by 14 smaller parties to form Jubilee. After the election victory, however, President Uhuru allowed Jubilee to go into atrophy. He denied the members a platform for organised and structured ventilation of grief, and internal dissent and political agitation. 

Mistrust in the political class is the main force behind the mushrooming of minions and fragmentation of the giants across the country. While celebrating the victory of the UDA supported Feisal Badar as MP for Msambweni in the by-election of December 2020, former Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale distanced himself from the then relatively fresh UDA. Duale cautioned the UDA Chair, Johnson Muthama, “This UDA is your thing. We have not understood what it is. We will have to know it better.”

Garissa Township MP Aden Duale speaks at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. June 2021. [Elvis Ogina]

In July last year, however, Duale officially declared himself a member of UDA, which had morphed from the People’s Democratic Party (PDR). In a TV interview on 18 July, Duale declared that Jubilee had “serious organ failures.” He was, accordingly, joining those who were uncomfortable with the Jubilee defects, to travel in the UDA vehicle. 

Political mistrust as the political party propeller shaft is at its highest since the return of multiparty democracy in November 1991. Even as the associate parties in Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza coalitions are agreed on election victory as their big agenda, the one thing they cannot fathom is the possibility of morphing into one party.

At the time of this writing, Azimio is a mass of close to 20 political parties, possibly with more to come. Each vehemently confesses its unyielding confidence in the ODM leader, Raila Odinga. They have all thrown their weight behind his fifth presidential bid. They are confident that, together, they can turn the tide in Mr Odinga’s favour in his fifth go at the presidency, to make him Kenya’s fifth president. But that is just about how far as their unity and trust goes.

Elsewhere, Kuria on Friday posted on social media that he would soon be leading a similar number of parties into affiliation with the Deputy President, Dr Ruto. Kuria says that talks are already going on and that they will shortly join the Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza Coalition. They expect to give Azimio a big run for their political monies. “Some of us will arrive on horseback. Others can arrive on a motorbike, or even a bicycle, or arrive pushing a wheelbarrow. The marketplace is open and so let the competition begin,” he said.

Raila and Ruto, either of whom could succeed Uhuru in August, need to go back to the drawing boards to plan how to be in control after they take over. They otherwise risk becoming hapless figureheads. A huge power management headache lies ahead. And the challenge is immediate.

ODM and UDA must either compete against other parties in their coalitions, or accept not to field candidates in some parts of the country, in favour of their colleagues. Yet securing agreement on who should field and who should not, even after UDA and ODM sacrifice parliamentary and county seats, still remains a headache, given the number of parties from the same region in either coalition.

In Azimio, for instance, governors Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) have each come on board with their own parties, from the same region. Their internal competition is bound to generate attrition that can only damage the wider union. This is especially so if Kalonzo Musyoka and his Wiper  eventually cave in to the pressure to join Azimio. 

In Western Kenya, the birth of the Democratic Alliance Party of Kenya (DAP-K), while intended to disable ANC and Ford-K, has had the iatrogenic effect of sweeping away what was left of ODM in the region. Even as the Azimio supporters get ready to vote for Raila in the presidential race, this will not be matched with similar support for ODM candidates for other seats.

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi speaks at St Faith ACK Church, Ongata Rongai. January 30, 2022. [Courtesy, Standard]

The competition is between DAP-K, on the one hand, and ANC/Ford-K, on the other. Should UDA field candidates in Western, however, it will complicate matters for the alliance, leaving DAP-K with strong likelihood of polling well and winning seats. Just like Raila, Ruto and UDA have to reckon with the possibility of staying out of the competition in Western.

UDA has similar challenges in the Mt Kenya region. Friendly parties like Kuria’s Chama Cha Kazi and Mwangi Kiunjuri’s The Service Party (TSP), alongside a dozen or so other parties will support the Ruto candidacy only on condition that they run their own candidates in the Mountain region and elsewhere in the country.

Last week’s announcement by Jubilee Party that it is fielding candidates for every seat everywhere in the country, except for President (where their candidate is ODM’s Raila), has thrown the spanner in the works. So, too, is the situation in Kisii, at the Coast and in the Kanu controlled constituencies in the Rift Valley. 

 The election promises to be a gruelling race that will return a wide platform of political parties to Parliament, but without a supermajority. Even where ODM and UDA may each have more members than the rest, they are unlikely to be big enough to allow them to do parliamentary business without wide lobbying, inducement and even bullying of the rest of the parties, and individual members. County assemblies, in contrast, look set to have supermajorities, on account of the regional character of the emerging political party situation.