Jubilee and Cord leaders on Tuesday agreed to start talks on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), in a move that could ease tension between the government and the opposition.
As the MPs from both sides of the political divide were hammering out a deal to reconstitute the electoral commission, at State House, Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were hosting Cord leaders Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang’ula to resolve a stand-off over today’s Madaraka Day celebrations. The third Cord leader, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, did not attend the talks because he had travelled to China.
Mr Odinga, who had flown to a funeral in Narok, cut short his trip, excused himself and informed the mourners that he had to leave because the President had invited him to State House.
During their meeting, President Kenyatta invited the Cord leaders to join him for the national celebrations at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru on Wednesday. The leaders also agreed that Cord would hold a peaceful rally at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, after the Madaraka Day celebrations.
Sources privy to the talks said that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga agreed to form a 10-member team — five from each side — to start negotiations on Thursday on how to reconstitute the IEBC.
The leaders met after a luncheon hosted in honour of visiting South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.
“Each side will name five members, comprising members of the Senate and National Assembly to start the talks,” said the source. The team will craft a framework, which will be used to resolve the issues which Cord has raised against the IEBC commissioners.
The agreement is likely to bring to an end the weekly protests organised by Cord against the IEBC that led to the deaths of three people in Kisumu and Homa Bay last week.
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have in the past criticised the demonstrations and urged Cord leaders to use the process set out in the Constitution in their quest to remove the nine IEBC bosses. Cord has accused the commission of incompetence, partisanship and corruption. It has insisted that the nine commissioners, including chairman Issack Hassan must be removed before the next elections.
On Tuesday, the National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee proposed changes to the manner in which electoral commissioners are recruited and provided for the majority and minority parties to have a role.
The committee proposed amendments to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act to allow the inclusion of the nominees of the parties in the panel that will recruit fresh commissioners.
In the proposed changes, the panel will have seven members, four of whom will be picked by the political parties and three by the Public Service Commission.
The committee chaired by Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkong’a agreed to push for the amendments to stop the ongoing protests against the IEBC.
The proposed amendments, however, don’t state how the current the commissioners will be sent home. Mr Chepkong’a later said this would be handled depending on what Kenyans tell the committee.
“We are ready and willing to receive any views from Kenyans, having concluded the drafting of the proposed law dealing with the selection panel. We are calling upon all interested parties to present to us memoranda and views on the proposed electoral reforms, including the reform of IEBC,” the MP said.
At State House, a source said both the Jubilee and Cord alliances are expected to have named their teams of five each by Thursday, in readiness for the negotiations.
“The negotiations will be done outside Parliament and reported back to their coalitions. After both sides have been satisfied with the way forward about the IEBC, that is when it will be taken to Parliament,” said the source.
Speaking about the meeting on the floor of the Senate after the talks, Mr Wetang’ula said: “We have had good but inconclusive discussions with President Kenyatta and the Deputy President at State House on national issues, including the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.”
Later, a statement from State House said: “His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta today (Tuesday) hosted a State luncheon to honour visiting Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga attended the luncheon at President Kenyatta’s invitation.”
It was also understood that the meeting was meant to eliminate the possibility of violence in the capital because Kenya is hosting President Park of South Korea. The police had banned political and prayer rallies, a move which Cord had vowed to disobey.
Sources said President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto had asked the Cord leaders to call off the rally and join them in Nakuru, but Mr Odinga said arrangements were too advanced for the rally to be cancelled. It was then that Mr Odinga and his team agreed to attend the Madaraka Day celebrations and thereafter fly back to Nairobi for the rally.
“The President invited Mr Odinga and Mr Wetang’ula to the national Madaraka Day celebrations to be held in Nakuru County,” State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu said in a statement.
On Tuesday evening, Siaya Senator James Orengo said the Uhuru Park rally would proceed on Wednesday as planned.
“The courts have ruled that the government has no reason whatsoever to block the opposition from proceeding with the planned rally. As such we urge our supporters to turn up in large numbers,” Mr Orengo told the Nation by telephone.
Earlier, Mr Musyoka had castigated the State for attempts to block the rally, saying that the decision was based on false allegations regarding state security.
“Rather than hiding under the cover of state security, Jubilee should now clearly state that they are not interested in national dialogue to resolve the IEBC crisis,” said Mr Musyoka, who sent a statement to newsrooms from Beijing.
Reported by Bernard Namunane, Isaac Ongiri and Jeremiah Kiplangat