|The Grand Coalition Government’s peace mission in the Rift Valley entered the second day on Friday as the position of Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the pecking order continued to excite debate among Kenyans.
|Prime minister Raila Odinga, President Kibaki, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Internal Security minister George Saitoti during the peace tour in Kericho on Friday. Photo/SOLLO KIRAGU
The Prime Minister continued to assert his authority in the coalition by inviting Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka to address the crowd ahead of him, and ensuring that he spoke last before inviting the President — a sign that he should be ranked higher than the VP in terms of seniority.
The uneasy alliance between the two main partners in the coalition — PNU and ODM — was also highlighted as some of the politicians including a Cabinet minister declared that Rift Valley was an “ODM zone”.
The issue of seniority and perceived bad blood between Mr Musyoka and Mr Odinga first came to the open on Thursday during a reconciliation rally in Eldoret, in which the VP was heckled.
Internal Security minister George Saitoti had invited Mr Odinga to address the gathering but the Premier resisted, pointing to the Vice-President who he wanted to speak first.
However, Mr Odinga reluctantly took to the podium but after his speech, he invited the President to speak, overlooking the Vice-President.
But the President signalled the VP to address the gathering.
In a rather embarrassing scenario, Mr Musyoka’s speech was drowned in jeering and booing from the crowd.
Mr Odinga explained that the coalition government was made up of the himself as the Prime Minister on one side and the President on the other, with the VP on the side of the latter and therefore a rung below on the pecking order.
Mr Odinga blamed protocol officials for the confusion.
“We changed the Constitution, but the protocol people have not changed the order of events. The truth must be told. What we know is that in the coalition government, it is the Prime Minister on one side and the President on the other side. There is no one else between us.”
However, in their second rally in Cherangany, the Premier tactically invited Mr Musyoka to “say a few words” before again taking over and then eventually inviting the President. The same was replicated in Friday’s rallies.
Nominated MP George Nyamweya described the confusion as “political and constitutional protocol”.
“In the constitutional protocol, the VP comes before the PM as the government is said to be constituted of the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister, with the two deputies and ministers. “However, in the political protocol, Mr Odinga is superior to Mr Musyoka who was a distant third in the race to State House,” he said.
He noted that the constitutional protocol has largely been applied in the Rift Valley peace rallies.
“To satisfy those unaware of the constitutional protocol, the political protocol could be used,” he said. “Perhaps this should apply more in political rallies”.
Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara said the VP is an appointee of the President and, therefore, his principal assistant while the Premier is in the position by virtue of leading the party with the majority in Parliament.
“Mr Musyoka should accept the fact that in the pecking order, he is junior to Mr Odinga. He should accept that the PM’s authority is clearly defined in the Constitution. He should also accept the fact that, according to the Constitution, the Prime Minister’s appointment is not subject to the President other than for mere formality,” said Mr Imanyara.
Besides, in the current coalition government, Mr Imanyara noted that PM is legally mandated to sit with the President and appoint Cabinet in which the Vice-President serves as minister.
The VP serves at the pleasure of President Kibaki who is Mr Odinga’s coalition partner.
According to the law, the premier is supposed coordinate and supervise ministers. This means that at ministerial level, Mr Musyoka is accountable to Mr Odinga.
But Water and Irrigation minister Charity Ngilu, is convinced that there is no Number One or two in the grand coalition government.
“The Accord we passed recognises the Prime Minister and the President as two equal partners in the coalition government. Mr Musyoka, who is the VP, is nowhere in this equation,” said Ms Ngilu. She said somebody “commanding less than 20 MPs in the House cannot expect the one leading more than 100 MPs to be junior to him.”
“Somebody is being mischievous here. Somebody is not realising that the Prime Minister took up his position for the sake of peace in this country. That is why without Mr Odinga, the current visit to Rift Valley and Western would not have taken place,” said the minister.
But under the Constitution, the Vice President remains defined as the President’s principal assistant.
Since President Kibaki and Mr Odinga signed the power sharing deal on February 28, the two partners—Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)—have continued to interpret the coalition differently.
On the PNU side, there is continuous efforts to portray Mr Odinga as third in the pecking order.
On the other hand, ODM members are also keen to project Mr Odinga as the second in command, if not equal ti the president.
The psychological battle was played out in the peace rallies where ODM-allied ministers mentioned Mr Odinga after the President in the order of protocol while their PNU colleagues carefully saluted Mr Musyoka before the Premier.
In March, Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, gave a public statement defining the pecking order in the government under the new dispensation in which he placed the Vice-President above the Prime Minister.
Mr Muthaura said according to the Constitution, the Vice President is ranked second to the President and would remain the head of Government Business in Parliament.
However, Mr Odinga and ODM had repeatedly said that PNU and ODM formed a new government and the two partners should be seen on equal terms.
“A grand coalition government brings together two equal partners and we must treat each other with respect. There is no Number One, Number Two or Number Three. We are all number one in one grand coalition government,” he told Parliament recently.
The National Accord and Reconciliation Act that allowed formation of the coalition government was vague on the exact pecking order, and now it appears that the issue of two centres of power that dogged the constitutional review from 2003 to 2005 may be re-awakened.
There is concern within PNU that Mr Odinga could be dealing with donors directly without the involvement of the other side, a development that could be solidifying his quest for power.
This is why the Sh30 million donation by the American Government to “strengthen” the Premier’s office is said to be sending jitters among PNU politicians.
The two partners have been at pains to assure the public that there is only one government, but the reality is that there could be two governments in one with parallel loyalties..
The burning question now is whether the PNU ministers — some of whom are preparing to contest the presidency in 2012— will allow themselves to be supervised by Mr Odinga, who they will be competing against in the next elections.
There is also anxiety in PNU that Mr Odinga, is keen on taking over power, instead of sharing it and that he may reduce the President to a lame duck.
Mr Musyoka’s ODM Kenya group is also wary that Mr Odinga is pushing the Vice President to the periphery and undermining him, especially after using his slots in the new government to appoint from Ukambani two assistant ministers, Mr John Harun Mwau and Mrs Wavinya Ndeti, who are Mr Musyoka’s foes.