Kenya’s pro-coalition alliance will look to finally push through controversial changes to the political parties’ law during the next three sittings of the National Assembly, marking an explosive start to the year when the country will vote in the third transition election since 2002.
The alliance of MPs loyal to President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday marshalled enough numbers to block several amendments to the Bill proposed by the ruling Jubilee Party rebels allied to Deputy President William Ruto.
But they were time-barred in their efforts to break a filibuster deployed by the Ruto camp during an ill-tempered debate that went well past midnight, featured ugly scenes of legislators hurling water bottles at each other and left an MP nursing an eye injury following a fistfight with a colleague.
The National Assembly Speaker is expected to recall MPs from holiday for the third time in three weeks to finish debate on the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill seeking legal recognition for political party coalitions and gives the Registrar of Political Parties powers to share out State funds among individual parties within a coalition.
But Dr Ruto and his allies see the proposed changes as the latest of the political schemes by President Kenyatta to manage his succession and aide Mr Odinga’s plan to build a coalition of regional parties behind his candidacy in the August 2022 election after a similar bid through a proposed constitutional referendum was blocked by the courts.
The President is widely expected to endorse Mr Odinga as his preferred successor, setting the stage for a hotly contested two-horse race with the Deputy President.
Their current curtain-raiser fights over the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill will extend to the Senate, which is expected to propose further amendments or back the position of the National Assembly before it can be enacted into law.
It could also open a new battlefront in the courts where President Kenyatta’s administration has suffered a string of painful losses in the past four years, including the nullification of his re-election victory in September 2017 and the verdicts against the proposed constitutional referendum, popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), in May and August 2021.
A number of MPs affiliated to Dr Ruto’s breakaway United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party and members of his presidential campaign think tank have indicated they are considering lawsuits over the Bill, saying it is unconstitutional.
Another ruling with major political implications is expected from the Supreme Court in the coming weeks when judges will hear and determine petitions seeking to salvage the BBI.
The top court will hear the petitions filed by, among others the Attorney-General and the electoral commission between January 18 and 20.
The return of the BBI case comes against the background of public statements by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga seeking to reassure their supporters that their dream reforms could still be realised.