Kenyan President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga have agreed to engage in bipartisan dialogue in Parliament to resolve the stalemate over the process of recruiting electoral commissioners.
Following the truce, Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party called off the fourth round of protests scheduled for Monday but warned of a resumption of the protests if the government fails to form the bipartisan parliamentary committee immediately.
President Ruto had earlier called for the ceasefire in a televised address to the nation, noting that the two weeks of protests had killed three people and injured hundreds more. He claimed that the violence had also harmed the economy.
The President suggested “a bipartisan engagement in Parliament on the re-constitution of the IEBC panel within the parameters of the law and the Constitution,” in response to one of the four key demands of the Opposition to review the recruitment of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners.
Mr Odinga’s camp has accused President Ruto’s administration of rushing through changes to the composition of the selection panel that will interview IEBC candidates to stack the team with commissioners who are biased towards the Kenya Kwanza administration.
President Ruto, in his address at State House in Nairobi on Sunday, said the precarious political situation demanded compromises without regard to who is right or wrong, even as he urged Mr Odinga to call off the elections.
The composition of the IEBC selection panel is one of the reasons Mr Odinga has called for bi-weekly protests, along with lowering the cost of living, opening electoral servers to audit last year’s presidential election, which Mr Odinga claims was rigged, and the reinstatement of four electoral commissioners who were forced out of office on accusations of attempting to obstruct Dr Ruto’s path to victory.”
In times like these, it isn’t about who is correct or incorrect. “I dare to say that courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, but it is also what it takes to sit down and listen,” President Ruto said. Suggestions were played down.
The President also dismissed suggestions that the ruling coalition could use its parliamentary majority to stall the process, saying that bipartisanship “is not a game of numbers” and that “we have been down this road before.”
“I have always been ready to engage Kenyans from all walks of life on how to make our country better and more prosperous, including elected and appointed leaders from across the political divide and the religious fraternity.”
“My door is still open for honest, objective, and sincere discussions based on the rule of law and the Constitution,” the President added. Even as the President conceded ground, he did not specify how the bipartisan approach to IEBC commissioner recruitment will be implemented.
This is because the IEBC selection panel, which was gazetted a while ago, is already working within statutory deadlines and is in the process of shortlisting Kenyans who applied to be members of the commission.
Mr Odinga welcomed Dr Ruto’s “statement that I regard as important” on Sunday but demanded that the bipartisan committee be formed immediately and with “strict timelines,” failing which the coalition threatened to resume mass protests next week.
Also, Read Concerns as Kenya’s government and opposition harden their stance on protests “We agree that a balanced parliamentary process co-chaired by both sides and supported by outside experts should proceed.”
“In our opinion, this committee should be formed immediately with strict deadlines for resolving the country’s crisis,” Mr Odinga said. Azimio leaders have compared their organisation to the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) of the late 1990s.
Mr Odinga also wants criminal charges against protesters dropped, as he announced that the coalition was responding to calls for dialogue made by various groups of Kenyans, including religious leaders, who had urged politicians to “give dialogue a chance, especially during this season of Easter and Ramadhan.”
“In light of the foregoing, we suspend our demonstrations for Monday [today], but we want to emphasise that we reserve the right to call for demonstrations if this process fails.
” If [President] Ruto does not engage or respond meaningfully to our counter-offer, we will resolve to resume our protests in one week,” he warned. “I believe Kenya is today facing the worst crisis, from which we can recover or go the way of failed States,” Mr Odinga said, adding that
“we believe the people understand the dangers we face,” citing electoral injustice, rising living costs, the opening of servers, and vicious attacks on the media.
The IEBC law, which was amended earlier this year and which Mr Odinga opposes, altered the first schedule of the parent Act to change the composition of the selection panel that oversees the commission’s filling of vacant positions.
The new seven-member selection panel, which is already in place, includes two nominees from the Parliamentary Service Commission — a man and a woman. (PSC).
The Public Service Commission (PSC), the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC), the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), and two people — a man and a woman — representing the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya are also represented. (IRCK).
The PSC nominated four people for the repealed law, two men and two women, two from IRCK and one from LSK. The Azimio side argued that, except for the LSK, the other panellists are government supporters and thus will not be fair.
Mr Odinga’s anti-government demonstrations began on March 20. Yesterday, the President also reminded Mr Odinga that the issue of his government’s legitimacy had been resolved by the country’s institutions as established by the Constitution and that the IEBC had conducted a “free, fair, and transparent General Election.”
“This is a poll that was observed by various local and international organisations.” “The commission declared the results of all six elections that were held, and any contestant who was dissatisfied with the results had the opportunity to present their grievances to the country’s judicial system for arbitration,” he said.
Even though Mr Odinga contested President Ruto’s election, the Supreme Court upheld the IEBC’s decision against Mr Odinga’s wishes. The President ruled out bringing the Azimio faction into the government, claiming that doing so would be against the wishes of the people.
“The Opposition will not be a part of the government because it believes in the rule of law and the operation of an accountable government.” If you accept the Opposition as the government, you will be in big trouble because there will be no one to hold the government accountable.
“There will be no accountability,” stated the President. There was speculation that Mr Odinga would push for a halt to the ongoing recruitment of new electoral commissioners, with his party’s insiders framing it as an unavoidable minimum for the coalition to relieve pressure on the President.
The Azimio camp has accused the President of changing the law to appoint friendly commissioners to the country’s electoral commission.
Dr. Ruto’s proposals to end the impasse are reminiscent of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision in 2017 to adopt a bipartisan approach that saw him agree to IEBC reforms that resulted in a negotiated process to replace commissioners following the ouster of the Isaack Hassan-led team. The bipartisan committee was co-chaired by former Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and then Siaya Senator, Mr James Orengo, who is now the governor of the same county.
It allocated two slots in the selection panel to the defunct National Super Alliance coalition, which was then the minority side in parliament, while the majority had two slots.
The IEBC vacancies were created by the retirement of its chairman, Mr Wafula Chebukati, as well as members Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu.
Following a petition in parliament, vice-chairperson Juliana Cherera resigned, as did commissioners Francis Wanderi and Justus Nyang’aya, and the President removed Ms Irene Masit from office based on tribunal recommendations.
PSC is represented on the IEBC selection panel by Mr Bethuel Sugut and Novice Euralia Atieno. Others include PSC vice chairperson Charity Kisotu and PPLC Evans Misati James.
Mr Benson Ngugi Njeri will represent LSK, while Dr Nelson Makanda and Fatuma Saman will represent the IRCK.