Speaker backs calls for Opposition
Published on May 14, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
The Speaker of the National Assembly Mr Kenneth Marende joined the debate on the formation of Grand Opposition, saying MPs were free to do so without having to seek a fresh mandate.
Marende said there was a provision for an opposition in Parliament and that he would not gag debate on the formation of an opposition to check the Grand Coalition Government.
The remarks by the Speaker will embolden a group of about 80 MPs who have vowed to join the proposed Grand Opposition despite calls by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and other senior members of the Grand Coalition Government to put it on hold.
Marende spoke as anxiety rose in ODM, some of whose erstwhile loyal MPs have come out defiantly against Raila’s call to put off the idea of forming the opposition.
ODM on Tuesday sent out a call to all its MPs to attend a Parliamentary Group meeting in a week’s time, on May 23, at the party headquarters to deliberate on the thorny issue.
Marende’s words also came at the peak of a heated debate on the issue, with MPs arguing for or against the formation of an opposition.
Minister Dalmas Otieno and other ODM MPs maintained that the formation of a Grand Opposition would weaken the position of the Prime Minister by reducing the party’s majority. But the coterie of pro-opposition MPs said their aim was different and not targeted on individual leaders.
Raila kicked off the heated fray over the weekend as he spoke in Kisumu and Bondo at his homecoming ceremony where he asked MPs to shelve the formation of an opposition saying it would undermine the Government.
He also told ODM MPs insisting on joining the Grand Opposition to quit the party and seek fresh mandate on a different party ticket. However, a group of ODM and PNU MPs, led by Bundalang’i MP Mr Ababu Namwamba, vowed to press on with the Grand Opposition following the passing of a motion for its formation in Parliament last week.
The Speaker’s remarks yesterday appeared to give a go-ahead to the MPs even as debate generated by the issue raged.
Opposition legally acceptable
Marende said Parliament would live up to the challenges posed by the push for Opposition.
“The law allows for Opposition…but if operationalising it may be difficult then Parliament can amend the laws and bring in fresh legislation,” Marende said.
He said his office was equal to the task and would give direction to members when such an issue comes before him for ruling.
“I will preside over debates ably, but I will not control contents of debaters,” Marende said at a Press conference after hosting Speakers of the national assemblies of Burundi, Rwanda, and East Africa Legislative Assembly at Parliament buildings, Nairobi, yesterday.
Citing examples of a recent trip he made to Germany to see how the grand coalition government there works, Marende said Kenya had not documented many agreements for reference purposes.
He said the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee, popularly referred to as the Mediated Talks Committee, formed by Chief Mediator Dr Kofi Annan allows for such touchy matters to be referred to it.
Marende allayed fears that Parliament would be weakened, saying he was looking forward to a vibrant future in the House.
But debate still flared with Chepalungu MP Mr Isaac Ruto, who has been among those championing the formation of an Opposition in Parliament, warning Party leaders President Kibaki (PNU) and Prime Minister Raila Odinga (ODM) to prepare for tough times in the House.
“We will scrutinise performance of the Grand Coalition and check them on commissions and omissions,” Ruto said.
“We owe our allegiance to voters and not to the power barons,” he added.
But Dalmas saw in the Grand Opposition a plot to deny the PM the authority of his office, which he was appointed to courtesy of ODM party’s numbers in Parliament.
Dalmas said those behind the formation of the opposition were out to frustrate Raila and divert his attention from ensuring quality service delivery to Kenyans as a PM.
“Unlike the President who got his position because of the votes he garnered, Raila got his position as PM because of the number of MPs his party ODM has in Parliament. It beats logic that the very MPs who celebrated his appointment to the office are being rallied by some forces to abandon him in Government and form an opposition” said the Public Service Minister.
But one of the proponents, Lugari MP Mr Cyrus Jirongo of Kaddu Party said no amount of intimidation would force the MPs to abandon their determination to form an opposition in Parliament.
“We are not in any way fighting anybody in Government. All we are doing is to help them deliver what they promised Kenyans by being their watchdogs,” said Jirongo.
Lands Ministers Mr James Orengo trod carefully by asking coalition partners to hold meetings to learn more about the proposed Grand Opposition.
The minister said that he and some of his six colleagues in a previous parliament, who were then dubbed the seven bearded sisters, gave President Moi’s government a run for its money even at the time “when thinking about opposition was a crime.”
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) urged
Raila to negotiate with the MPs calling for a Grand Opposition in Parliament. The society’s vice-chairman, Mr James Mwamu, said the country was in a unique and fragile political situation that needed understanding.
The President of the East African Law Society, Mr Tom Ojienda, said the debate on the Grand Opposition was taking space it did not deserve.
“The move to seek a Grand Opposition itself shows that the backbenchers are capable of uniting to keep checks and balances. There is no need to form an opposition,” he said.
But PNU affiliated Members denied they were being driven by a desire to undermine the PM.
The chairman of the Parliamentary Investment Committee (PIC) and Igembe South MP, Mr Mithika Linturi, who last week seconded the motion on the Grand Opposition said their only aim was to provide checks and balances for the Government and that Raila had nothing to worry about.
“I want to assure him that if he brings pro-wananchi motions, we shall support him fully. We are not going to oppose for the sake of it,’’ said Linturi.
Kigumo MP (PNU) Mr Jamleck Kamau said even though he supports the Government fully, he saw nothing wrong with the formation of the Opposition.
Reports by David Ohito, Joseph Murimi, Isaac Ongiri, Harold Ayodo, Beatrice Obwocha, Beautah Omangaa And Mutinda Mwanzia