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Long road for Opposition Caucus

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8 – The dream of having an official opposition is fading away day by day.

Not because the urge of the close to 60 Members of Parliament (MPs) championing for the caucus has disappeared, but because of their very own mistake; an oversight that should have otherwise been corrected had they been unselfish enough in the kind of laws they make.

Little did they know that one day they would be victims of the very same law they inconsiderately passed.

Despite conflicts with their party leaders who dismissed them as a desperate lot of politicians that had missed out on Cabinet positions, the MPs pushed for the House to formally recognize an Opposition Caucus, comprising backbenchers.

However, the new Standing Orders are holding them hostage as they require MPs who wish to join the caucus to first seek approval from their party chairs.

This has served as a major blow, especially to MPs from the major parties, the Party of National Unity (PNU), the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and ODM Kenya.

However, Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo (ODM K) told Capital News that all is not lost since there are already over 35 MPs from smaller parties who can get approval from their chairs.

“Even if the major parties refuse to release the numbers, there is no question that there will be enough numbers to support this idea of official opposition in Parliament; our problem is only with the bigger parties,” he said.

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The Standing Orders require a minimum number of 30 MPs to form an opposition.

Mr Kilonzo’s anticipation may not go as he expects. This is because all other parties represented in Parliament are in government except Cyrus Njirongo’s KADDU.

Garsen MP Danson Mungatana (Narc Kenya) is also likely to get approval from the Party Chair Martha Karua who quit government last month.

Unfortunately for Ms Karua, she vied on a PNU ticket, which means that her approval would have to come from Prof George Saitoti, the party chairman.

However Ms Karua has not been keen on whether there will be an official opposition or not. She has not also been received with open hands by the caucus.

Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo (ODM Kenya) admits it was a mistake on their part, as they did not scrutinize the Standing Orders before approving them.

He also says it is unlikely that the major party leaders will give consent for their back benchers to join the caucus.

“The present day reformers are the ones who sneaked in that clause that renders the opposition caucus useless, because clearly nobody will arm you with an admonition to check them. I don’t see political leaders allowing members to join the opposition unless they want to control it and maybe they can only do it to their cronies with an intention of controlling that important wing of democracy,” he says.

Mr Mutito partly blames Ms Karua for the clause, saying she was the Minister for Justice when the clause was introduced.

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Igembe North MP Mithika Linturi (KANU) insists that 55 members have signed the petition. He says if they don’t get approval from their chairpersons, then they would employ other means of checking the coalition government.

Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto (ODM) also admits there is a problem if they have to seek for approval from the political party leaders who are already very much disinterested in the cause.

He fears that the clause has ultimately handed control of the opposition to the party leaders.

“The clause creates a jam!” he protests. “They are not keen on appointing anybody; they will appoint the guys who are compliant with those parties,” he says.

Mr Ruto also contends that it would be impossible

Bringing another law to change it may also not help since it will be contradicting the Standing Orders.

“It is a major road block because even if we wanted to bring another law the Speaker will start telling us it is against the Orders, it was a little bit tricky how they were able to slot that into the Orders,” He says.

So far 32 MPs have signed a memorandum to the Speaker of the National Assembly expressing their intention to form the opposition.

The letters have been copied to their party leaders for approval.

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