Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kenya: Speakers dramatic step expected to force President and Prime Minister to work together

Kenyans have hailed what they describe as a bold and unprecedented move by their parliament speaker, who stepped in as temporary chairman of parliament's House Business Committee. Speaker Kenneth Marende's dramatic step is expected to force President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to work together to resolve the country's problems. Marende said that the executive bickering should not interfere with the smooth running of parliament to maintain separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution. There have been reported tensions between the two leaders after the prime minister accused the president of being a stumbling block to necessary reforms.

Political analyst Michael Tiampati told VOA there is a strong distrust between the two leaders.

"The majority of Kenyans are happy that some way has been found to ensure that parliament actually does its business because there was apprehension that without the House Business Committee, then not much would have happened, and the main worry was caused by the obtained reality that is confronting Kenya. Kenya is facing a great deal of challenges such as drought," Tiampati said.

He said most Kenyans expect those in power to work to alleviate their sufferings

"There is famine in some areas. There is also flooding in some other areas… and of course, the internally displaced people. So Kenya is facing myriad problems that would not give people the luxury of having business transacted on the floor of parliament," he said.

Tiampati described speaker Marende's decision as bold and unprecedented.

"What has happened is that the ruling by the speaker is a wakeup call and it is a challenge that has been thrown to the principals that are the president and the prime minister to get their acts together and put the country first as opposed to the power struggle that is apparent. That is, there are more important issues that need to be addressed, and they ought to be addressed in parliament, and the two leaders should provide leadership that would demonstrate that they have the interest of the country at heart," Tiampati said.

He said relations between the President and Prime Minister are filled with suspicion.

"The history of the frosty relations between the president and the prime minister goes back to 2003 when they cobbled together the infamous Memorandum of Understanding, which according to the ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) was never respected. And therefore, there is that suspicion. There have been accusations from the ODM that say that the president is not very good in keeping his word, and of course, that has been playing out even as recently as the putting together of the accord that brought together the ODM and the two PNU's (Party of National Unity) to cobble together a government of national unity," he said.

Some political observers say Speaker Marende's move throws an enormous challenge to both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga. The two have been feuding over the speaker position since Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka's nomination by Kibaki was challenged by the prime minister, who appointed himself to the post. Kenya watchers also praised Marenda's ruling, saying it forestalls the stalemate in parliament and puts the blame where it truly belongs in the executive.

Marende made it clear in his ruling that the speaker had said his role as temporary chair of the House Business Committee will be limited to the facilitation of parliament activities. During this period, provisions of the standing orders that require specific action by the leader of government business, (No. 36 (4) is an example) will remain suspended.

Prime Minister Odinga is a former parliament opposition leader. Days before speaker Marenda's ruling, Odinga demanded a snap election in the event President Kibaki refused to name him as the leader of government business in parliament. The position is regarded as powerful is normally held by Kenya's sitting vice-president.

Kenyan legislators expected the speaker Marende to rule on the issue on Tuesday and decide who should head an influential parliamentary committee. But Marende threw the debate back to the parties and said they must agree themselves.

The unity administration was formed last year under the auspices of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to solve a post-election crisis that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and set back trade and economic growth across the region.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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