Ruto party concession on House leadership saves talks
Kenyan National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula has allowed an MP affiliated to the former ruling Jubilee Party to occupy a senior House leadership position, ending a five-month controversy that had threatened to derail ongoing bipartisan talks on electoral and governance reforms.
The opposition Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Alliance coalition last week warned it would pull out of the talks unless Nominated MP Sabina Chege, controversially installed by a rebel faction as party leader in place of former president Uhuru Kenyatta in May, stepped down as Minority Chief Whip.
Mr Wetang’ula has in the past resisted the push by Azimio to reclaim the seat, arguing his hands were tied by wrangling in the former ruling party and court cases filed by both sides over the matter.
Despite sponsorship by or affiliation to a political party or coalition, a person holding the position of Speaker of any of the houses of the Kenyan parliament — National Assembly and Senate — is presumed to be independent in his or her decisions.
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Mr Wetang’ula’s critics, however, accused him of aiding a political scheme by President William Ruto and his ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition to weaken opposition parties in parliament and undermine multiparty democracy.
President Ruto beat his main rival,Raila Odinga, in the August 2022 election by a narrow margin but saw his coalition win fewer seats than the opposition in the 349-member National Assembly.
In a move seen as the then new president seeking to consolidate power around him and respond to the legitimacy narrative pushed by the opposition, he swiftly set out to woo some MPs or small parties in the Azimio coalition to defect.
The balance of power in parliament has since tilted significantly in his favour after more than 30 MPs from the two major partner parties in Azimio — Jubilee and ODM — shifted their loyalties to the government side.
The president’s move to control parliament, however, turned out to be a double-edged sword for his administration after the opposition resorted to anti-government street protests between March and July to voice its grievances, leading to economic shutdowns in Nairobi and some major towns.
A heavy-handed security crackdown that saw at least 57 people killed by police, according to the Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa, contained the protests in July and political stability has returned to the country after Ruto and Odinga agreed to the bipartisan talks facilitated by former Nigerian president Olesugun Obasanjo and US senator Chris Coons.
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Elements in the Ruto administration, fearing the National Dialogue Committee chaired by former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka and Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah may recommend reforms with the potential to trigger political realignments ahead of the 2027 elections, continue to oppose the talks publicly.
But some major concessions by the government side, including agreeing to an audit of the elections and the reconstitution of a selection panel for new electoral commissioners, suggests that Ruto might no longer be keen to listen to the axis of hardliners in his coalition, most of them loyal to Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
The first big ruling by the National Assembly Speaker going against the Jubilee Party rebels, most likely with the President’s blessings, points to a new turning point in the administration’s engagement with the opposition that might see the Gachagua group increasingly isolated.