Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his renegade deputy William Ruto are set to test the power balance in parliament when debate on controversial proposed changes to the political parties law resumes on December 29.
The president’s side, backed by opposition MPs affiliated to former prime minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party, thought it had done enough to settle the contest in the 349-member National Assembly when it won 113-68 in the first round of voting Tuesday.
But a filibuster by MPs allied to the Deputy President during the special sitting prompted adjournment to late January, putting the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill in limbo.
The National Assembly Speaker has since recalled MPs from holiday for the second time in two weeks to debate the proposed legislation that seeks to legalise political party coalitions and restrict their registration to six months to a general election. It means that a new coalition has to be registered by February to participate in the August 9, 2022 elections.
The Bill also gives the Registrar of Political Parties powers to share out state funds among individual parties within a coalition based on their respective contributions to a presidential candidate’s votes.
The current law recognises individual political parties and only requires loose pre-election coalitions to deposit their unenforceable agreements with the regulator three months to the polls.
Proponents of the Bill argue its enactment into law will bring order to political parties and coalitions and make it easier to resolve ugly disputes arising from sharing of State funds.
But Dr Ruto and his allies see the proposed changes as the latest of the political manoeuvres by President Kenyatta to manage his succession at the Deputy President’s expense.
Dr Ruto has ruled out entering coalition arrangements, preferring to popularise his rebranded United Democratic Alliance (UDA) as a national party.
The Bill, he and his allies argue, smoothes the way for Mr Odinga, the president’s presumed preferred successor, to build a coalition of regional parties behind his candidacy in the August 2022 election after a similar bid through a proposed constitutional referendum flopped.
A successful referendum would have expanded the government structure to, among others, reintroduce the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers, making it easier for a presidential candidate to negotiate a power-sharing deal.
Mr Odinga, the veteran opposition leader who has been cooperating with President Kenyatta’s government since their so-called Handshake deal in March 2018, unveiled his new Azimio la Umoja coalition for his fifth State House bid on December 10.
Azimio brings together his ODM party, a significantly weakened ruling Jubilee Party and a host of fringe political parties.
Mr Odinga’s efforts to woo back his former allies in the defunct National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition, which backed his presidential bid in 2017, have been unsuccessful so far.
The breakaway Nasa partners have since moved on to form a new coalition called One Kenya Alliance (OKA), whose leaders are also being actively courted by Dr Ruto.
If the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill is passed in its current form, the deputy president’s campaign fears it could put pressure on potential swing groups such as OKA to decide to join Mr Odinga’s Azimio coalition by February when major political realignments around the 2022 elections are expected to start.
The law allows MPs and senators, for example, to cross over to other political parties within six months to the next election without having to lose his or her seat or face a mini poll.