When Parliament resumes business Tuesday afternoon, one of the many challenges it will be grappling with is its quality of debate, especially at a time when the august House is caught between a bulldozing Executive and a weakened Opposition that is not interested in providing any real resistance on the floor.
On the cross is the independence of the country’s legislative functions — and, of course, democracy itself.
The political tussle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga is now playing out on the hallowed floor of Parliament, where MPs have been whipped to adopt radical party positions, essentially handing over their own independence to political chieftains.
It is a sick recourse to the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi eras when the Executive lorded over MPs, and the threat by the Opposition that it will boycott plenary sessions runs the risk of further weakening the institution.
Minority Whip and Suna East MP Junet Mohammed told the Nation Monday that Nasa MPs will only attend parliamentary debates on matters of national importance like “roads” and “energy”, giving the clearest indication yet that the Opposition will not attend all sessions in the House.
To cement that position, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi said the biggest agenda for the Opposition going forward will be dialogue on political and judicial reforms, and that in the absence of such discourse, parliamentary business will not be important to Nasa.
In this regard, the Opposition says it will skip the vetting of Cabinet Secretary nominees starting today. It boycotted vetting sessions at the committee stage as, Mr Mohammed says, the whole process was “purely a Jubilee affair”.
With the Executive accused of eroding civil liberties in the wake of a crackdown against Nasa politicians who took part in Mr Odinga’s controversial oathing ceremony two weeks ago, the Opposition wants National Assembly speaker Justin Muturi to reclaim the independence of the Legislature this afternoon.
The rain started beating the House when the Executive ordered the removal of Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter from the chairmanship of Labour and Social Welfare committee, Moiben MP Silas Tiren from the Agriculture committee, and Embakasi North MP James Gakuya from Parliamentary Broadcasting Services.
“The Executive crossed the red line when it meddled in the membership of parliamentary committees,” says Mr Barasa Nyukuri, a governance expert and political scientist who also accuses President Uhuru Kenyatta of abusing the doctrine of separation of powers.
“(This) has eroded the independence of the House, which plays an oversight role on the Executive,” says Mr Nyukuri.
“In any case, why would the President be so keen in choosing those to check the Executive, under the guise of regional balance?”
But Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe has, in response to these breach-of-territory claims, defended Mr Kenyatta, saying “the sharing of the positions have to reflect regional, gender and ethnic diversity of the party”.
“That was the final decision of the party, which must be respected. Those not interested can take a walk,” said Mr Murathe when the claims first surfaced.
University of Nairobi lecturer Herman Manyora says Mr Kenyatta should limit the Executive’s involvement in the House to lobbying through Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen.
“The president, when dealing with the affairs of the government, must shed off the Jubilee tag,” says Prof Manyora. “Summoning MPs to State House to manipulate and cajole them is wrong.”
Nasa says that, when in Parliament, it will seek to reclaim the independence of the House as, without an effective Opposition, faulty Bills could become law since there will not be much scrutiny and debate.
“We will have very little, if anything, to do there if we do not fight to restore the independence of Parliament,” says Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma.