Opposition leader Raila Odinga has summoned his party’s top organ to a meeting on Tuesday to rally support for radical proposals to restructure the Executive.
The meeting, to take place in Naivasha, will focus on pushing for the re-introduction of the parliamentary system of government and a three-tier devolved structure that could lead to the creation of 14 regional governments.
Mr Odinga is expected to update the Orange Democratic Movement’s National Executive Council (NEC) on the next steps to be taken after the March 9 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta and seek support for the nine-point agenda agreed upon by the two leaders as part of the Building Bridges to a New Kenya Initiative.
Also on the cards, party insiders told the Nation, is a possibility of Mr Odinga’s Orange party building new coalitions with current and emerging political parties in readiness for political battles on the proposals to amend the constitution. ODM is a key member of the National Super Alliance that also includes Mr Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper, Mr Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Ford Kenya of Mr Moses Wetang’ula.
The opposition alliance has been at odds after Mr Odinga struck a deal with President Kenyatta without consulting the other principals.
The ODM meeting will also discuss plans for Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta to launch countrywide tours to seek support for the nine-point agenda.
“Rallying the party behind Uhuru’s Big Four agenda and ensuring that the plan is aligned to devolution will also form the core of the Naivasha talks,” said our source, who spoke in confidence.
On Saturday, Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna confirmed the meeting will take place as per the resolutions of the ODM Central Management Committee meeting on Friday under the chairmanship of Mr Odinga as part of the efforts to strengthen the party after last year’s General Election.
“The central management committee resolved many things on Friday, one of which is that we hold a NEC meeting to strengthen the party,” said Mr Sifuna, noting that the meeting is part of a series of events that have been planned for the next few months.
“After the NEC meeting we shall embark on branch visits to explain to the rank and file the meaning of the handshake and what it means for our party and what we expect of it. The idea is to have coherence in our messaging because failure in that regard will lead to many interpretations which may damage our party.”
During the Friday meeting, Mr Odinga told the committee that time has come for the country to amend the Constitution with a view to re-designing the Executive to ensure peace and equitable development and openly pushed for a parliamentary system of government. Debate on the changes has sharply divided various political camps with some viewing it as a plot to derail Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
Mr Odinga argues that the presidential executive system has been the cause of many problems, including the dominance of a handful of ethnic groups and the marginalisation of others. He points out that the Bomas Draft — in reference to the 2005 Constitution-making process whose proposals were thrown out in a referendum — made it clear that the governing authority over the entire country should not be under one person, the President.
He argues that the presidency gives the holder of the office enormous power and authority to dispense favours to particular individuals or groups which undermines the principle of equality and equity, and equal treatment of all.
“Of what value is a powerful office if its pursuit must cost lives and tear the country apart every five years?” he asks, adding: “The Bible tells us, in the book of Mathew 5.19, that if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”
“It is better for you to lose one part of the body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. I believe it is time to gather the courage and gouge out this problematic institution from our system, lest it lead us into the abyss,” he goes on.
Mr Odinga blames the presidential system for entrenched tribalism, exclusion, centralisation of power and system of political patronage, arguing that monopoly of national power tends to weaken devolution.
“It is most likely that only a member of a large tribe is likely to have any prospect of being elected president. Often deals will be made between leaders of two major tribes for mutual support which, if adhered to, could keep others out of power for 20 years!”
He notes that under a parliamentary system, the power in the national executive is exercised by ministers drawn from the majority party in the National Assembly.
“If no party has a majority, the largest party has the option of forming the government if it can form it with members of another party, a form of power sharing. Each minister is in a sense responsible both to the cabinet and to parliament,’ he states.
Mr Odinga argues that under the Bomas model, a special role was given to the President, that of promoting national unity and respect for the diversity of the people and communities of Kenya.
The President was also charged with the responsibility of upholding and safeguarding the Constitution besides ensuring the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, said Mr Odinga.
“This would, to some extent, modify the authority of the Prime Minister in respect of issues of special concern in multi-ethnic states,’ he states.
The opposition chief further argues that under the parliamentary system, there is continuing accountability of the executive to the legislature and, through them, to the public.
“Its members sit in the national legislature and have to answer questions put to them by other members.”
He says it is much easier to remove the prime minister or other ministers, or at least censure them, at any time if there is significant dissatisfaction with the government.
The former Prime Minister further adds that the system offers opposition MPs an important role to play in parliament by checking against excesses committed by ministers.
He says that under the system, the opposition will appoint shadow ministers to follow and question policies and conduct of particular ministers.
“In case of major dissatisfaction with the government, it can be replaced by a vote of no-confidence (passed with the support of the opposition and usually some disenchanted members of the government party or minority parties) by the opposition or the government dissolved which opens the space for new elections. In a presidential system, it is much harder to remove the head of government,” Mr Odinga argues.
He adds: “If, as is often the case, the members of the opposition are active in parliament, it is easier for the people to follow the policies and acts of the government than under the executive presidency. At least this has been the Kenya experience; in the US the opposition are fairly alert because the US Congress takes seriously its role as a separate arm of government.”
Mr Odinga says the parliamentary system is likely to promote the sharing of power between different parties. The fight for the presidency, which starts immediately after the victory of a candidate, will give way to activities of parliament and so national development.
And speaking during the Wiper party National Executive Committee-cum-Parliamentary Group meeting in Naivasha on Saturday, its leader Kalonzo Musyoka supported calls for a review of the constitution.
However, he called for sobriety as the nation debates the 2010 Constitution with a view to amending some sections.
“If we end up with a non-contested referendum it would be better for this country. The current divisions started during the 2005 and 2010 referendums,” he said.
Without naming names, Mr Musyoka said it was unfortunate that those who rejected the current constitution ended up being the biggest beneficiaries.
“We support the review of the constitution because this document is not static. It is a living document and must respond to political situations and challenges facing any nation at any given time,” added the Wiper leader.
He said the Bomas Draft Constitution should be adopted to end the current stalemate.
“The Bomas draft, if given a proper look, will guide us to an all-inclusive document that will strengthen devolution and unite Kenyans,” he said.