A proposal to create the office of Leader of the Official Opposition in Kenya is causing jitters at the ongoing bipartisan talks at Bomas of Kenya. Those in Kenya Kwanza who are opposed to the proposal to accommodate Azimio leader Raila Odinga now claim that the creation of such a powerful position complete with a shadow cabinet will give Mr Odinga powers to destabilize the William Ruto-led administration.
If the office is to be entrenched into the constitution, then the holder may end up being third in command after the President and his Deputy. According to those pushing for the creation of the office, the holder will also be required to address parliament, something that only the President is constitutionally allowed to do at the moment. The Deputy President is not allowed to address parliament under the current constitution.
Addressing parliament is a big opportunity and privilege, and some Azimio-allied leaders believe that Raila Odinga could end up using such an opportunity to criticize the government from the floor of the August House. Another fear from Kenya Kwanza is that since Raila Odinga is a shrewd politician if he is handed such a powerful office, he may use it to plan for the 2027 elections, and that even if he won’t contest for the presidency, whoever he will support will give President Ruto a difficult time.
With such an office fully funded by the exchequer, Raila Odinga could outsmart the president, and people will see him as co-president. During the Grand Coalition government under Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga outsmarted President Mwai Kibaki on many occasions, President Kibaki had to backtrack on some of the policies he had wished to implement because Mr Odinga was opposed to them.
With more than half the voters solidly behind him and his Azimio coalition party, Kenya Kwanza leaders fear that he could end up denying President Ruto’s government ample time to execute its mandate. A proposal that the holder will have the privilege of nominating members to various independent commissions is scary to some KK leaders, to them, this is akin to power sharing, and having opposition appointees in such commissions could easily lead to sabotage of government operations.
In Azimio, those opposed to the creation of such a position claim that it will weaken the opposition politically and that there are chances that President Ruto may use his powers to frustrate Mr Odinga plus his shadow cabinet. They claim that for Azimio to wrestle power from Ruto in 2027, Raila Odinga must not be anywhere near the government and continue with opposition politics.
Initially, President Ruto had proposed that the leader of the opposition be nominated and be the leader of the minority in Parliament while the deputy goes to the Senate as the minority leader. This proposal has caused division in Azimio, with those allied to Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka saying it will leave him in the political cold.
There is, however, another group that supports the creation of the office but wants both Raila Odinga and Martha Karua out of the Senate and Parliament, with two others appointed to be nominated to represent them in Parliament and the Senate. Those pushing this agenda claim that both Raila and Karua are too senior to start debating with Kenya Kwanza MPs, who have been making demeaning remarks against them.
Another area of contention is who will be in Mr Odinga’s shadow cabinet. Already, those pushing for it are lobbying and angling for certain portfolios. Sharing the 24 slots available will be another big headache for Raila and Azimio. Already, there are several politicians to whom Raila had promised cabinet slots had he been declared winner of the 2022 elections.
Top on Raila’s cabinet was former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who has been playing an active role in opposition politics. Former Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, who has since taken a sabbatical leave from politics occasioned by ill health, had been promised a cabinet slot.
Former Agriculture Minister Peter Munya was also promised a ministerial docket, as were Eugene Wamalwa, Peter Kenneth, Keneth Marende, and Mwangi wa Iria, among others. It will be a big headache for Raila to appoint a balanced shadow cabinet, taking into consideration that it must be gender-sensitive as well as regionally balanced.
Those in Kenya Kwana opposed to the creation of the position are mostly allied with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. They claim that the said office will further dilute the DP’s powers, which are already diluted by the creation of the office of Prime Cabinet Secretary headed by Musalia Mudavadi.