Friday, May 15, 2009



Published on 26/04/2009
Dr Edward Kisiang’ani

Following the resumption of hostilities between the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), parliamentary business has been paralysed. The latest stalemate was fuelled by differences over the leadership of Government Business in the House. At the heart of the conflict is the House Business Committee (HBC) — the only organ that sets the agenda for parliamentary debate.

Before the State opening of Parliament, last Tuesday, President Kibaki had written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, appointing VP Kalonzo Musyoka as Leader of Government Business and chairman of the HBC. Rejecting Kibaki’s move, Prime Minister Raila Odinga wrote to the Speaker, appointing himself to the positions. As a result of the controversy, Parliament has neither the HBC nor the Leader of Government Business. Consequently, the Government cannot obtain the necessary legislative authority to release money for supplementary budget. Reacting to the disagreement, PNU has observed that because Kibaki is the Head of State and Government, he was right to appoint Kalonzo without consultation. But ODM holds the view that, as equal partners in the Coalition, Kibaki and Raila should always consult on all major appointments.

It is important to note that the National Accord- which the two parties signed last year — proceeds from the premise that, in the wake of the bungled election, neither PNU nor ODM has the capacity and legitimacy to govern alone. Surprisingly, however, PNU has not only refused to accept the power-sharing reality, it has often dispatched junior civil servants and politicians to undermine the Prime Minister. This has resulted in endless conflicts that have profoundly affected service delivery. Furthermore, the quarrel between the two factions has also stalled reforms.

Runaway corruption

Without doubt, the country is in a crisis characterised by runaway corruption, impunity and tribalism. Evidently, suffocating levels of poverty have forced most of the youth to embrace crime. Only the other day, more than 30 Kenyans were brutally murdered by suspected Mungiki adherents in Nyeri. Nobody can deny private militias have rendered our security forces ineffective. Besides, the country is in dire need of food and a new constitution. Somebody has to fix these problems urgently. But how can a government so divided be expected to tackle these problems?

The deadlock in Parliament is a culmination of weeks of heightened suspicion between the two strange bedfellows. Early this month, PNU and ODM congregated at the Kilaguni Lodge, to explore ways of managing the coalition. But because the two partners could not agree on the agenda, the talks collapsed.

Primitive leadership

Soon after Kilaguni, Raila launched a blistering attack on the President, describing Kibaki’s style of administration as primitive. With equal intensity, PNU lambasted ODM for being petty and frivolous. When the exchanges turned nasty, Kibaki stepped in by declaring nothing would stop him from working with Raila. Shortly, the President invited the Prime Minister for highly publicised peace talks that resulted in a temporary truce.

But 24 hours later, ODM released a statement, in Naivasha, demanding the reconstitution of the office of the Government spokesman and that of the Head of Civil Service. Responding, PNU loyalists, led by Kalonzo, launched a counter-attack at a public rally in Meru. During the meeting, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi ridiculed the Prime Minister when he observed that even if Raila were to be given Alfred Mutua and Francis Muthaura’s offices, ODM would not stop making noise. By Tuesday last week, it was obvious the rift between the two coalition partners had widened further.

Kenyans have come to appreciate this coalition is not working. There is no doubt that, in its current composition and mood, the coalition has no capacity to bring about the changes we want. How many more disputes do we want before we can move?

The only way out of this impasse is for all of us to agree to go for early elections. Given that each of the coalition partners is faced with the crisis of legitimacy, the country needs to go to the polls to elect an interim administration that enjoys national support. The transitional outfit should be given reform mandate within a specified period. Thereafter, post-reform elections should be held.

Some legislators have been of the view that because there is no electoral commission, there would be nobody to supervise elections.

Divided Government

Others argue there is no voter register against which the elections would be conducted. Still more advise early elections without reforms would be bloody. While there is merit in all these arguments, they should be examined within the context of the current dilemma. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that if we allow this divided Government to stay on until 2012, it would deliver constitutional reforms.

When it reconvenes next Tuesday, Parliament should constitute the HBC with only one thing in mind: to take urgent measures to prepare for an early election.

Among other things, Parliament should approve the Interim Independent Electoral Commission and endorse a supplementary budget for voter registration.

If the HBC leadership remains in hands of PNU, ODM would continue fighting Kibaki’s party on several fronts.

But if, on the other hand, the HBC headship were taken up by ODM, PNU hardliners would do everything to sabotage Raila’s party. Worse still, neither party would accept Raila or Kalonzo as Leader of Government Business. It is frustrating.

While the President’s party has refused to share power with ODM, ODM has declined to be a junior partner in the Coalition. Rather than fade away, this conflict is worsening. We either go for fresh elections, within the next six months, or we postpone the problem and pay a heavy price in 2012.

The writer teaches History and Political Studies at Kenyatta University.