Dilemma as House braces for a one-man Opposition
Published on April 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By Oscar Obonyo
Lugari MP Mr Cyrus Jirongo — the sole opposition leader recognised by the Tenth Parliament — has a tough job.
He has to keep the Grand Coalition Government on its toes, but as his backbench colleagues rightly argue, it is an enormous task the Kaddu chairman can hardly perform alone.
Now, backbench colleagues from coalition party members, Party of National Unity (PNU), Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), ODM-Kenya, Kanu, among others, are insisting on lending Jirongo a hand.
But the MPs’ “good gesture” is not helped by the fact that they “offered assistance” a day after President Kibaki named a Cabinet of the Grand Coalition Government, and only after missing out on the same.
Their case is further complicated by parliamentary legislation that only recognises Official Opposition with at least 30 MPs in the House.
Jirongo is the only Kaddu MP and to get the numbers those keen on “assisting” him play opposition chief, may have to forfeit their seats and seek a new mandate.
But Francis Linturi (Igembe South, Kanu), who has moved the Motion to have the controversial issue debated, is afraid that the 65-plus MPs not serving as ministers will be denied the constitutional right to assemble and associate freely under the Grand Opposition.
He argues that Parliament should make the necessary legislation to pave way for a grand opposition coalition in the same way it did the Grand Coalition Government.
But Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion Minister, Ms Martha Karua is categorical: “You cannot have a Grand Coalition and a grand opposition. This negates the spirit and the statutes of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008. In creating the Office of Prime Minister it is very clear that the holder of the office will be leader of a political party that has the majority MPs.”
She argues that if such a scenario was to be allowed then no single party would have a clear majority in Parliament, yet this accord is the very threshold of the new political dispensation.
The Constitutional Affairs Minister’s position notwithstanding, a determined Linturi told The Sunday Standard that, the Speaker had approved the Motion and the same was to be forwarded to the House Business Committee.
The HBC meets on Tuesday and, depending on how it prioritises its Motions, the Linturi-private member’s Motion could come to the floor of the House as early as Wednesday.
And Linturi adds another twist to the saga with claims that those in Government are dead scared that the backbenchers might form another political party to upstage their party bosses come 2012.
Indeed, these are some of the possible scenarios and realities that the political leadership of PNU, ODM, ODM-Kenya and Kanu are aware of.
Already, leaders of Safina, which is affiliated to PNU, have expressed interest in pulling out of the coalition. Safina politicians, say they have been short-changed in Cabinet appointments.
But well aware of this possible threat, The Sunday Standard has established that PNU and ODM are plotting to “adequately accommodate” the dissenting voices in their midst.
Already some of their key members are lined up for slots in the Parliamentary Service Commission — a crucial administrative organ.
Among those being touted for positions are PNU’s Joseph Lekuton (Laisamis) and Jamleck Kamau (Kigumo). ODM’s slots could go to Chris Okemo (Nambale), Charles Cheruiyot (Kuresoi) and Gideon Mungaro (Malindi).
The 10-member commission is the top administrative organ of Parliament and has powers to hire and fire parliamentary staff as well as determining the employees’ salaries.
House Speaker, Kenneth Marende and Vice-President Kalonzo are automatic members.
Dismissing the goings on as selfish driven political games, Nairobi lawyer and civil rights activist, Mr Harun Ndubi points out that as an individual MP, one has every right to hold the Government accountable from either side of the floor of the House, while in the backbench or even from the front bench.
The Constitution, which factors in the existence of multi-party democracy, accords the Leader of Official Opposition a host of privileges similar to those enjoyed by a Cabinet minister.
Over and above this, the opposition leaders chair parliamentary watchdog outfits, including the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and the Public Investments Committee.
Although the quest for Leader of Official Opposition initially attracted the interest of a sizeable number of legislators, some like Okemo, have withdrawn from the chase.
Nonetheless, Okemo points out that owing to what is “clearly emerging as a case of being short-changed”, ODM would have declined sharing a Government with “illegitimate winners in PNU” and instead offered solid opposition in Parliament.
Stating that it is in the interest of the Kenyan people, Linturi is optimistic that the Bill will be passed with “little or no hitch” at all.
Linturi warns that the absence of Opposition spells doom for the Kenyan public, an argument that Ndubi refutes. The lawyer points out that some of the biggest economic scams facing the country now like the Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing were in fact executed at a time when there was “one of the most active and alert opposition in Parliament”.