Tuesday, May 13, 2008



Published on May 13, 2008, 12:00 am

By Standard Team

Debate on the formation of a Grand Opposition gained momentum, with several ODM backbenchers behind the initiative vowing to defy their party leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s call that they shelve the move.

They said they would soldier on and would not resign to seek a fresh mandate as demanded by Raila at the weekend.

The MPs, including the man behind the move, Mr Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), said they respected Raila’s view demanding that they resign, but insisted that it would not be necessary because they were not moving from one party to another.

Reading a statement at Parliament Buildings yesterday, Chepalungu MP, Mr Isaac Ruto, and Konoin MP, Dr Julius Kones, said neither President Kibaki or Raila nor the VP had the authority to order them how to run parliamentary business.

"It is not within his docket to order us. We are only accountable to the people who voted for us, not Raila or Kibaki or Kalonzo or any minister," said Ruto, adding that some ministers and their assistants had endorsed their move.

The ODM MPs were joined by New Ford-Kenya MP, Dr Bonny Khalwale, who is also the new Public Accounts Committee (PIC) chairman, and Naivasha MP, Mr John Mutututho, of PNU.

There are fears in the Raila camp that the Grand Opposition could signal problems in the party, a move that could weaken Raila’s hold in Parliament.

According to National Accord that governs the Grand coalition Government, the party with the majority in Parliament produces the Prime Minister.

Any loss in numbers is being perceived in ODM circles as a move to undermine the PM, although in real sense the PM’s position is not under threat.

The defiant MPs said there was no going back and hit out at Raila, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Foreign Affairs minister, Mr Moses Wetangula, for what they termed "dictatorial and draconian" measures while handling internal dissent.

The MPs accused Raila, Kalonzo and some Cabinet ministers of personalising the matter.

"It is not about their offices, but the serious issue of governance which can only be tackled by MPs in Parliament and not at homecoming parties," said the MPs.

They told their critics that they will have an opportunity to go through the Bill in Parliament and should not vilify opposition proponents in parties.

They urged the House Business Committee, chaired by Kalonzo, to expeditiously put on the Order Paper the private member’s Bill by Namwamba seeking the Speaker’s recognition of an Official Opposition composed of more than 80 members of the backbench.

"We know these people resisting the move are senior members of the HBC and will use their position to scuttle this noble move," said Ruto.

The MPs asked President Kibaki and Raila to join them in their quest for recognition by engaging in debate in the House like they did during the historic debate on the National Accord and Reconciliation Act.

Namwamba, who spoke to The Standard on the telephone, said even though they respected Raila as the party leader, it was important to have an opposition to check excesses of Government.

Namwamba, whose motion was seconded by Igembe South MP, Mr Mithika Linturi, said Raila should know that other leaders were entitled to their views.

Namwamba said he was shocked by Raila’s stand, adding that the PM understands the role of the opposition better than any other MP in Parliament.

"He is the child of opposition and he made a name in the opposition. We did not expect him to dismiss us," said Namwamba.

He said the defiant MPs intended to do the work Raila was doing when he was in the opposition and the PM should support them instead of vilifying them.

Namwamba, however, added that he would remain loyal to Raila and ODM, but said he owed Kenyans higher loyalty.

On Saturday during his homecoming rally in Kisumu town, Raila lashed out at MPs planning to form the grand opposition, saying the move would undermine the Government.

"I disagree with my son Namwamba over mobilising ODM MPs to form a grand opposition. The move will deny my party the majority in Parliament," Raila had said.

Speaking the next day in his home town of Bondo, the Prime Minister told MPs insisting on the grand opposition to quit the party and seek fresh mandate on a different party.

Raila said the MPs could still check the Government from the backbench.

But Namwamba said: "We are disturbed that some leaders are twisting the truth over the agenda of the grand opposition leading to the resistance we are facing."

Namwamba said backbenchers would follow the legal framework in pushing for the grand opposition.

"I will move a Motion in Parliament in two weeks’ time to streamline and define the role of the opposition in Parliament," he added.

He pointed out that he was optimistic that they would carry the day because there was goodwill in the House.

"All we are doing is undertaking a noble move to ensure that institutions like the Official Opposition are not swallowed by the Grand Coalition Government," he said.

Khalwale, the Ikolomani MP, cautioned the VP and Wetangula to tread carefully, saying Kalonzo was not party to the National Accord signed by Kibaki and Raila.

"Kalonzo should count himself lucky because the Accord does not recognise. He absconded his rightful place in the opposition and should, therefore, not try to scuttle the process," said Khalwale.

Added he: "Nowhere in Raila’s role as spelt out in the Accord does it say that he will supervise MPs. Let him stick to his docket."

The Ikolomani MP said Raila was a product of the opposition having been leader of the opposition for many years.

"Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Wamalwa Kijana, Masinde Muliro and a host of other second liberation heroes must be turning in their graves at Raila’s stance. At our age, we cannot support the two principals blindly," he added.

"Raila should know that it is still fresh in our mind that he never sought a fresh mandate when he literally led a hoard of MPs out of Narc and into the Opposition. If it was not illegal then, it will not be illegal now," said Kones.

Kones quoted former President Moi who, in 1964, said a government without an official opposition goes to sleep.

The MPs disputed claims that they were sulking because they did not get ministerial positions.

Mututho said many ministers were behaving like mini-gods hence the need for an official opposition.

Last week, Parliament passed a Motion seeking to formalise the official opposition, a move which gave the MPs the go ahead to publish a Bill that will be brought to the House for debate on the matter.

It now awaits the go-ahead of the HBC for the Bill to be placed on the Order Paper of the House for debate.

A group of 65 MPs began the opposition crusade after President Kibaki and Raila formed the Grand Coalition.

Reports by Peter Atsiaya and Abiya Ochola