Jubilee-allied MPs have accused opposition leader Raila Odinga of a spirited attempt to drive a wedge between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.
The leaders claim the March 9 handshake deal had a sinister agenda to divide the Jubilee Party from within.
“There is no doubt that he sees William Ruto as his competitor, and that is why he is disdainful of the Deputy President and his lieutenants,” said Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, summing up the discomfort within the Ruto camp. “He is trying to be cosy with the President but at the same time is hostile to the DP. His is a perfect example of divisive politics.”
But Kisumu Town Central MP Fred Ouda said this is not the right time for the Ruto camp to start politicking as “the main agenda of any leader at the moment is to support the handshake”.
“It is sad that some leaders, led by Mr Murkomen, are busy giving the President ultimatums. We cannot keep talking about William Ruto and 2022 all the time.”
Mr Ruto was locked out of consultations until the Uhuru-Raila pact was announced on March 9 and, although he has publicly backed the deal as a great shot at uniting the country, he is opposed to suggestions by Mr Odinga to change the Constitution in order to fix the nation.
Mr Odinga widened the rift between him and Mr Ruto on Tuesday when he rallied his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) troops behind his pact with President Kenyatta and insisted that the Constitution must be amended to bring on board an executive prime minister as proposed in the 2005 Bomas draft, and also introduce a third tier in the devolution governance structure.
This, Nandi senator Samson Cherargei says, is the problem the Ruto camp has with the referendum proposal by Mr Odinga as it is only geared towards blocking or undermining a Ruto presidency.
“They know Ruto is going to be president, and now they want to sneak in a referendum to block his way by introducing the post of a prime minister selected by a few people and not by a majority of Kenyans through universal suffrage,” said Mr Cherargei, who has been one of the most vocal legislators against the bid to amend the Constitution.
At the heart of the Ruto camp’s suspicion of Mr Odinga is the strong belief that any change of the structure or powers of the Presidency will severely hurt the DP’s chances of having as much control and authority as his boss President Kenyatta should he win the post in 2022.
They are also wary, sources say, of the fact that referendum pushes often birth political movements that could complicate Mr Ruto’s 2022 game plan. But Mr Odinga disagrees:
“Without the changes we envisage in the MoU, 2022 will be messy,” he said on Tuesday in Gilgil. “It will come with the same confusion, heartbreaks and, possibly, chaos. We are trying to forestall such eventualities.”
Mr Cherargei’s comments echo those of National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, who two weeks ago declared the handshake “dead”.
“There is no handshake any more,” said Mr Duale on the floor of the House in reference to Mr Odinga’s referendum push. “We do not want a referendum but they want one, so we can’t go to bed together. We also cannot agree to another level of devolution. It is expensive!”
“This talk of a referendum is even worse than the elections in 2022 because it brings politics forward,” Mr Murkomen said. “Raila wants it in the next one year. The tone and language of his statement denotes politics of chest thumping, dictatorship and brinkmanship.”
Senate Deputy Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata said he also does “not trust Mr Odinga” as he could be having “ulterior motives”, but Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju took a more conciliatory tone.
“It is a good thing that Kenyans are talking,” said Mr Tuju, “and we should not stifle opinions that are different from ours. Let us all put these things on the table. If there is no table, let us make one.”