It all started as a joke somewhere in Central Province. President Kibaki was two weeks ago at a function in his rural neighborhood. After performing the ceremony that took him there, he made an incoherent statement that was immediately picked up by the media. At first he intimated that the elections should be held at the end of 2012. On being alerted that he was already in the news with the December date, he quickly changed and reiterated that he would rather go with the March 2012 constitutional court ruling for March 2013.
Following this pronouncement, the chairman of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission went on overdrive. Within three days, the Commission had hurriedly consulted the President and the Prime Minister in separate meetings and concluded that the two coalition partners would not agree on a date to dissolve the coalition to pave way for elections as per the constitutional requirement. A day later and on Saturday morning, the Commission chairman called a press conference to announce the election date 12 months away.
As things stand now, there are leading politicians that have supported the date while others have opposed it. Interestingly, this division is more visible in the cabinet than anywhere else. As of now, Kibaki has 15 cabinet ministers supporting the March 4 2013 date. Among them are 8 ministers from the ODM who traditionally support Raila Odinga. Interestingly, Musalia Mudavadi, Raila Odinga’s deputy in the ODM has cast his lot with President Kibaki.
Raila Odinga’s side has 16 cabinet ministers opposed to the March 2013 elections. Interestingly, he is supported by 10 cabinet ministers from the PNU; chief among them is Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who is Kibaki’s deputy.
As things stand now, only 32 out of 42 cabinet ministers have taken sides. We expect that the remaining 10 ministers will take as stand as the public debate takes center stage in the coming weeks.
Outside the cabinet, critical voices that may influence the direction the debate takes have been Martha Karua, the former minister for Justice who is a presidential candidate in this year’s elections. She is on record as having challenged Prime Minister Raila Odinga to pull out of the coalition and force an earlier election. Her view is that President Kibaki and all MPs’ terms will expire on December 30 2012 and any extension of the life of Parliament or term of the President beyond that date will be illegal, unconstitutional and fraudulent.
However, two other presidential candidates from Mt. Kenya region- Peter Kenneth of Gatanga constituency and Rev. Mutava Musyimi of Embu have thrown their weight behind Kibaki in supporting the March 2013 date.
Interestingly, Raila Odinga’s fiercest opponents, the G7 alliance comprising of the three presidential aspirants- William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kalonzo Musyoka and five other contenders have chosen to side with Raila Odinga in opposing the March date.
Looking at this scenario, it may be the beginning of fresh realignment on the political scene. If things work according known Kenyan political script, this issue may well present a golden opportunity for politicians to form new alliances based on which side of the election date one supports. If this happens, sworn political enemies may as well find themselves on one side and form an alliance before we go to the polls.
Why do I say this? In March 2002, Raila Odinga’s NDP political party merged with Moi’s KANU in a grand ceremony at Nyayo Kasarani Stadium. However, a few months later, this merger collapsed after President Moi chose to anoint Uhuru Kenyatta without going through the process of party primaries. For this reason Raila Odinga walked out of KANU and with him several diehard KANU operatives such as George Saitoti, then Moi’s Vice President and Kalonzo Musyoka, Foreign Minister among several cabinet ministers.
In a matter of weeks- just two months to the elections, these KANU renegades joined forces with Kibaki’s coalition and formed the Rainbow coalition. It is the coalition that terminated KANU’s rule after nearly 40 years in power.
In 2007, the same scenario had to repeat itself when the Rainbow coalition fell apart after an acrimonious referendum on the new constitution failed in November 2005. When Kibaki’s faction lost the referendum vote to Raila’s group, President Kibaki sacked all ministers allied to Raila Odinga. This referendum was the birth of the Orange Democratic Movement party.
The formation of the ODM following the 20005 referendum meant that the Rainbow coalition was no longer viable for Kibaki to defend his seat. He then formed PNU- the Party of National Unity just months to the elections. Whereas Raila’s ODM had representation from 7 out 8 provinces, Kibaki’s PNU drew its leadership mainly from Mt. Kenya region with support from former President Arap Moi in the Rift Valley. When the votes were counted, ODM swept 7 out of 8 provinces while PNU only managed Central Province. Yet when the ECK chairman announced the presidential vote, Kibaki had won by 200,000 votes.
In the coming elections, the stakes are high for Raila Odinga. Kibaki is not running but if March 2013 remains, chances are that Kibaki will remain the President until mid-2013 or even later because election rules have changed. If there is no outright winner, there may be re runs or even court injunctions delaying the swearing in.
Yes, Kenyans are being prepared for another round of drama if not another series of election protests depending on how the President handles this sensitive time bomb.