Bipartisan talks in peril as Azimio resumes rallies, readies for demos

The demos are to run concurrently with the bipartisan talks between Azimio and Kenya Kwanza. For days, Azimio has threatened a return to the streets, even as their Kenya Kwanza rivals have chided them over the same.

The opposition claims Ruto's administration is not serious about the talks. Kenya Kwanza has made the same claims about Azimio, especially in the wake of threats of a return to the streets,. Some Kenya Kwanza lawmakers have questioned Azimio's motives.

"It is bipartisan talks or the streets. You cannot have it both ways," Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot tweeted. "No double-chance betting. You must at least believe in something. In peace talks, guns are normally silenced first."

From the onset, the condition for talks had been that the protests, which Ruto lamented had had ramifications for the economy be called off. For two days weekly, business in the capital, Kisumu and other towns in Nyanza was virtually grounded while schools were also affected.

During the first of the three demos, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the country had lost Sh2 billion by afternoon. Kenya Kwanza's argument has been that people lost their lives and livelihoods during the protests, property looted and vandalised.

"I ask Baba to consider the number of people who will suffer. Last time he spoke about peaceful demonstrations and we saw that many businesses were destroyed," said Embakasi Central MP Benjamin Gathiru, who said the protests attracted criminals who took advantage.

As sections of civil society urged a return of demos during the Thursday meeting, the overarching message was that they were "the only language the government understands". There were calls to keep constant pressure on the government as protests are designed to do, the world over.

While accepting the president's olive branch, Raila said they would return to the streets at the earliest sign of a "lack of seriousness".

The "lack of seriousness", in this case, includes Kenya Kwanza's nomination of Adan Keynan, a Jubilee lawmaker, as among its negotiators.

"We note that our counterparts have named Adan Keynan as part of their team. Keynan is a member of Azimio. The issue of party discipline is one of the four cardinal issues on the table and his inclusion is in bad faith and intended to delay the process. We, therefore, request he be replaced," Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, who chairs Azimio's team of negotiators, said Thursday.

"We note the delay in naming the seven-member team and that up to now, they have not named their chair leaving us at a loss as to whom to engage," he added.

Further, they disagree with having the talks limited to the reconstitution of the electoral commission.

"You can always know when someone is serious in dialogue. How can you prefix dialogues with denials... and limit it to the reconstitution of IEBC?," Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka said on Thursday.

Besides the expansion of the talks' agenda, Azimio wants the inclusion of other players in the talks, with Ruto adamant that the parliamentary route is the only one available.

The opposition coalition has named Prof Makau Mutua and Jubilee Party secretary general Jeremiah Kioni were appointed as assisting counsel, with lawyer Paul Mwangi as a joint secretary.

"This is an extra-parliamentary process initiated by the principals of Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja One Kenya. We urge our counterparts to accept the text and spirit of the Constitution on public participation, consultation and inclusivity in such processes," Amollo said.

"The Constitution allows for Parliament to conduct public participation and that is done outside Parliament so the inclusion of the three new members is within the law," he added.

Kenya Kwanza does not seem to expressly oppose the inclusion of non-MPs to aid in the talks. On Tuesday, Cheruiyot said Kenya Kwanza had a six-member technical team that would guide them in the talks, listing National Assembly Deputy Speaker Gladys Shollei and MPs David Ochieng' (Ugenya) and John Kaguchia (Mukuruwe-ini), among others.

"We don't have an objection if our colleagues from the Azimio side feel that they could do with some assistance from a technical group that is working to aid either their submissions or their proposals as and as a wing of the bipartisan talks," the Kericho senator said in an interview on Citizen TV.

But Azimio's insistence to have other stakeholders be included could jeopardise the talks.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, a member of Azimio's team, accused the president of treating the said talks casually.

"In gauging Ruto's seriousness with the so-called bipartisan dialogue he himself called for, three things (come to mind): the insistence of a purely parliamentary process is a red flag, the inclusion of Keynan is absolute bad faith and the refusal to do anything to lower the cost of unga is a deal-breaker," the ODM secretary-general tweeted on Wednesday.

Sabatia MP Clement Sloya said the parliamentary committee should be allowed the chance to find solutions to the challenges highlighted by Azimio. "It is noteworthy that the bipartisan committee has equal representation from Azimio and Kenya Kwanza. We cannot solve anything through demonstrations," Sloya said.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale however implored Azimio to cease calls for mass protests and give dialogue a chance.

"The fact that the talks have been agreed on that will take place than what they are announcing should be put on hold. It is a serious oxymoron. They verified and said we want talks to take place and they are the same ones who now want to start side shows at the expense of the talks," said Dr Khalwale.

He, however, urged the Azimio leaders to drop the act if they were not interested in talks to ensure peace.

"They are now going back to barazas and Kamukunji. It is their right. We cannot dictate to them what to do. But I ask them to go and reflect on what they are doing. If they do not believe in bipartisan talks then why waste time and resources inviting us to those talks?" he posed.