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It's not about me, says Raila as he warns of the mother of all battles

Azimo la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga arrives at Kamkunji Grounds Kibra from his trip in Dubai on April 28, 2023. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has defended his sustained pressure on President William Ruto's administration, listing justifications for his cause.

In a press release issued yesterday, the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya leader said he is interested in a better Kenya, amid the harsh economic strain many are undergoing and the more challenging times projected in the face of higher taxes.

Playing deaf

Raila accused the Kenya Kwanza Alliance of trying to hoodwink Kenyans by making the opposition's struggle to be "about Raila Odinga", in an effort to escape addressing the critical issues Kenyans currently face.

He accused President Ruto of playing deaf to the pleas made by the downtrodden, warning of a never-before-seen battle if the Head of State ignored Kenyans.

"It is time for the administration and all the institutions supporting its denial to know that the issues I have been canvassing alongside all Azimio Party leaders are not about me or any of my co-principals," the former prime minister began the stinging statement that highlighted why the fight was bigger than himself.

Raila gave priority to reforms at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which he said posed no threat to the Azimio leadership, but instead threatened the nation's stability and the growth of democracy.

"A situation where all IEBC commissioners are required to agree with whatever the chairman says is a serious danger to future elections and anyone can be a victim. Yet that possibility is with us, in light of what befell the four dissenting commissioners.

"In leading the calls for a transparent and inclusive reform to the IEBC, I am acting for posterity, in the best interest of the nation," Raila stated, amid reports that the selection panel recruiting new IEBC commissioners is still conducting its affairs despite the ongoing talks that seek to establish a framework for the appointment of its members.

And he also reiterated the opposition's criticism of what they say are skewed appointments that the Ruto administration has made, also already faulted by various players, including members of the clergy. The Azimio leader said he was speaking out for families whose children would not get jobs because they were from "the wrong tribe".

Azimio has issued an ultimatum to the president to disown remarks by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua that equated Kenya to a corporate entity with shares, threatening to write to the United Nations seeking self-determination.

Raila's criticism of the 3 per cent housing levy that the president is keen to push through Parliament, backed by an almost unanimous support of Kenya Kwanza lawmakers, was just as firm.

"The Housing Levy, which now seems to be non-negotiable, does not affect Raila Odinga or my co-leaders at a personal level. All of us are unemployed and do not have salaries to be deducted... We are fighting for those Kenyans whose salaries have continued to shrink because of taxes, loans and statutory deductions."

For days, the housing levy has been a hot potato issue, even as government officials who have come out to explain it, including the president and Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga, leaving more questions than answers.

Housing levy

Azimio is opposed to the levy, as are most workers' unions and employers. Efforts by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to introduce a 1.5 per cent housing levy were futile. President Ruto is adamant that the levy must sail through Parliament despite its striking unpopularity. Raila claimed the Head of State was "bribing" Members of Parliament who would endorse all his proposals and turn Kenya into a one-party state.

The housing levy is proposed in the equally contentious Finance Bill of 2023, which proposes a raft of new taxes that experts have warned will only burden the struggling mwananchi, wrestling with the weight of the cost of living.

"Like my counterparts in Kenya Kwanza, I can afford the costly unga, fuel, electricity, paraffin and sugar, among other items. But I know millions of Kenyans can't. I also know that high prices, compounded by poverty and a regime that does not care, are a toxic mix waiting to explode.

"In speaking out, I am trying to pre-empt the worst for Kenya," he went on, also faulting "punitive" taxes for content creators, which he said would kill innovation "and limit options among youth struggling to fend for themselves."

"I earn no per diem like government officials do. I am voicing concerns on behalf of lowly paid civil servants whose per diems will be subjected to a 30 per cent tax deduction with consequent low work morale."

The Azimio leader added, "I do not need beauty products, and neither do my co-principals. But I recognise the beauty industry as a source of employment for millions of our people, particularly the youth, hence my opposition to the 316 per cent tax hike on these products."

Nearly two months ago, Raila called off demonstrations over the highlighted issues, opting to give dialogue a chance. But the Azimio side pulled out last week, claiming a lack of seriousness by government side.

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