Try as they have, to reassure Kenyans that their gesture to close ranks is for the public good, political competitors and sceptics insist President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga have something up their sleeves.
And the situation has not been helped by the greatly enhanced camaraderie between the two hitherto sworn political enemies.
Since reaching out to one another on March 9, 2018 in the now famed Handshake gesture, the Opposition chief has enjoyed substantial influence and trappings of power in the Jubilee administration.
Little wonder that many, including allies of Deputy President William Ruto and members of the civil society, had, before the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Report on Wednesday, dismissed the product as a political deal between the two leaders.
To the Jubilee Party politicians allied to the DP, BBI is a document aimed at aiding Mr Kenyatta and, particularly Mr Odinga, to stay in power after 2022.
For long, the word on the ground, as confirmed by Majority Chief Whip Ben Washiali, has been that the two leaders are in a power-sharing pact, with Mr Kenyatta settling for prime minister’s slot and Mr Odinga going for the presidency.
While Odinga’s backers have not hidden the fact that the former PM may be eyeing the presidency in 2022, the President’s men have been cagey, but at least not Simon Mbugua, an MP of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala).
The legislator maintains President Kenyatta is the “indisputable candidate” for slot of Prime Minister.
The MP, who early this year kicked off the lobby for Kenyatta’s assumption of office of PM in the next government, dubbed “akaputin” — in reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who has held the positions of President and Prime Minister interchangeably, claims “the deal is as good as sealed”.
“We, members of the Kikuyu community, have no clear political successor at the moment. And this is either by design or error, meaning we can only have the President exit from the political scene after grooming a successor, and he has five years to do so in the next government,” explained Mr Mbugua.
RUTO UNDER ATTACK
Reached for comment, confidants of the two leaders were, however, categorical the President and former Prime Minister had no known 2022 power-sharing deal.
Former vice-chairman of the President’s party, David Murathe, wondered why a section of Jubilee politicians were fixated with Mr Kenyatta’s post 2022 political life, “when he has repeatedly said he will not hang onto power contrary to the constitutional dictates”.
The ODM chairman, John Mbadi, was similarly miffed: “The two have stressed repeatedly that theirs is an act out of national and not personal interest. Just how far can we push this skewed notion that these two have a selfish interest to grab power?”
Nonetheless, the President and former premier have continued to give mixed signals — partly playing hardball on DP Ruto, with Mr Odinga particularly campaigning spiritedly against the country’s second in command.
And last month, the President also further confused his supporters by suggesting, rather casually, that he did not mind occupying the office of premier.
He was speaking last month during a meeting with political leaders from Mt Kenya region at Sagana Lodge, Nyeri County.
Talk of the premier’s slot for Mr Kenyatta has ideally unsettled some within Jubilee.
Some, like former Cabinet minister Martha Karua, have even gone to the extent of publicly dissuading Mr Kenyatta from assuming the position of PM.
Speaking at a women leaders’ conference last week, the Narc Kenya party leader termed such a move unconstitutional, saying the two term limit set by the constitution was enacted to ensure that no leader stays in government for more than a decade.
“As a good friend, I am telling the President not to be tempted to preside over an unconstitutional post. Finish your term and let somebody else take the mantle,” said Ms Karua.
But the proposed office of PM as envisaged by the BBI almost exonerates the President from association with the post.
According to the report, the Prime Minister, who must be an elected Member of the National Assembly, shall be appointed by the President “from a political party having a majority of members in the National Assembly or, if no political party has a majority, one who appears to have the support of a majority of MPs”.
The PM, according to the BBI proposal, “May be dismissed by the President or through a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly that wins an absolute majority”.
“I doubt that this is what Uhuru is yearning for. If he wants a soft landing, then we will either have to create another office for him or strengthen the office of PM,” an MP from Nyeri, who did not wish to be named for fear of contradicting the President, confided in Sunday Nation.
And terming the PM office “terribly weakened”, Prof Macharia Munene, a commentator on political affairs, is categorical President Kenyatta will not take up the office.
“This is confirmation that indeed the President may be genuine about his interest in exiting from power upon completion of his second term in office.”
But Mbadi, who concurs that the position of PM is “seriously diluted”, views the move positively.
“At least the good thing is that Kenyans and drafters of the BBI report have seen the need to create the position. This is a good starting point and now we should all work towards strengthening this office.”
In fact, Mr Mbugua claims the drafters of the position “deliberately weakened it as a negotiation ploy”.
“We are going to enhance the powers of this position because we cannot have an arrangement where a Prime Minister can be easily sacked by the President.”
While Kenyatta and Odinga have maintained their move to spearhead a national healing process was motivated more by national than personal interest, Prof Munene thinks otherwise.
He claims theirs was an act of desperation following the political stalemate.
“None of them appeared stronger than the other after the 2017 poll, and although Uhuru would have had the state machinery to his advantage, Raila appeared stronger, stubborn but without power structures. Ideally the two needed each other, more so Raila, who had technically lost the poll,” says Mr Munene.
Mr Mbadi, however, dismisses the notion that the handshake is about political power. Says the National Assembly Minority Leader.
“And in any case if Uhuru and Raila want to go for political office in 2022, they are free to do as they have a constitutional right like everyone else.
The idea of treating the two as if they are some kind of criminals who have committed an offence is unacceptable”.