Senators Johnstone Muthama (right) and James Orengo addressing journalists at Capitol Hill in Nairobi on May 25, 2016 where they said that Cord has temporarily suspended demonstrations that were scheduled for Monday to give dialogue and peace a chance. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Raila party halts demos, Jubilee digs in on talks
Cord has halted its Monday demonstrations until June after pressure from religious leaders and fears that the campaign to eject electoral commissioners could lose popular support because of the violence.
Senators Johnson Muthama and James Orengo on Wednesday said they had halted the demos after calls by religious leaders and envoys, who have warned that the protests could spark violence. Cord will, however, use the time to console the families of the three demonstrators who died during this week’s protests in Nyanza.
“If no word comes from Jubilee by June 5th, we will prove to the world what really demonstrations mean,” Mr Muthama warned during a press conference held at Cord leader Raila Odinga’s office at Capitol Hill Centre in Nairobi.
There have been fears among Jubilee MPs that the protests could lead to widespread civil disobedience after more counties joined in this week’s protests. On Monday, a State House spokesman said that the protests were meant to subvert the Constitution.
Cord leaders, who are pushing for the removal of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) top officials, said they were suspending the protests to allow for dialogue on how this can be done.
The opposition accuses IEBC of corruption, incompetence and rigging of by-elections. The law says commissioners can only be removed if a petition is filed in Parliament which, if in agreement, would recommend to the President to appoint a tribunal to prove the commissioners in question.
Such a petition in 2014 was rejected by the Jubilee-dominated National Assembly.
Cord senators James Orengo and Johnstone Muthama, who have been organising the demonstrations, said the demonstrations will resume after June 5 if the government does not agree to talks.
However, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale has warned that the governing Jubilee Coalition will not accept Cord’s proposal to hold talks outside Parliament.
“If Cord was interested in discussions over the IEBC, dialogue has been on the table at the joint Justice and Legal Affairs committee of the National Assembly and Senate. The talks can begin now,” Mr Duale said.
He said that any talks outside Parliament will be contrary to the Constitution.
“Elsewhere? Tell us where it is exactly provided for in the Constitution,” he said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have in the past said that the joint Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs can lead the talks.
However, Cord insists that the talks must be held outside the ambit of Parliament where different stakeholders, not just elected leaders, can participate.
“We are not going to accept the parliamentary legal committee. Those are the instructions we have,” Mr Orengo said yesterday. “There must be some agreement outside Parliament because sovereignty is not vested in MPs alone.
Sovereignty lies with the people of Kenya.”
He and Mr Muthama said Cord has a team ready to engage the Government and other stakeholders in such talks. The team, they said, has representation from other interest groups outside Cord.
TNA chairman Johnson Sakaja yesterday said that the President’s party was concerned with the insistence by Cord leaders that the IEBC issue be resolved outside the constitutional channels.
“They are out to cause chaos, divide Kenyans, cause trauma and create anxiety as we head to the elections,” Mr Sakaja, who is also a nominated MP, said in a telephone interview. “The IEBC issue should be solved by sitting together to talk and not throwing stones and barricading roads. We also have supporters who can protest but we have restrained ourselves.”
Mr Duale warned that Cord was using the IEBC issue to cause chaos and urged the Government to take measures to end the demonstrations.
“Cord leaders Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula have proved, if any proof were needed, that peace and stability are vocabularies that do not exist in their dictionaries,” said Mr Duale.
However, Mr Muthama said Cord had demonstrated its commitment to dialogue by halting the protests.
“We remain ready for and committed to dialogue as the best path out of the crisis facing our nation,” he said.
According to him, suspending the protests would give dialogue and peace a chance.
“The suspension expires on Sunday 5th June, 2016,” he announced.
This week, he and other Cord leaders who took part in the protests, including Mr Odinga, were not allowed near the IEBC offices. Instead, police dispersed them using water canons as they marched on University Way.
Last week, the protests were dispersed just after the leaders reached the IEBC headquarters at Anniversary Towers and were preparing to give speeches. The previous week, police used teargas to disperse the protests just after Mr Odinga addressed the protesters.
Meanwhile, sources have indicated that the National Council of Churches of Kenya and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops last week told Cord leaders that they would be on their own if they continued with demos.
Sources said the clerics went as far as engaging with the country’s main donors to push for dialogue and make street protests unattractive to the opposition.
After a meeting with clerics last week, the Cord leaders said they were ready for dialogue as long as the Government side offered to talk. But they went back to the streets on Monday but their protest were violently crushed by the police, leading to the death of three people.
On Tuesday, the clerics met with 12 ambassadors from Kenya’s main donor nations. Later that day, the envoys condemned the violent protests and called for talks.
“Violence will not resolve the issues regarding the future of the IEBC or ensure the 2017 elections are free and credible,” they said in a statement to media houses. “We strongly urge all Kenyans to come together to de-escalate the situation and to resolve their differences, taking every opportunity for inclusive dialogue.”
The clerics are meeting in Nairobi for two days after which they will issue a statement on the electoral process. The retreat brings together NCCK, KCCB, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) and the Hindu Council. The grouping is akin to the Ufungamano Initiative of the late 1990s.
“We emphasise on dialogue because our engagement with stakeholders shows that the IEBC is just a red herring.
There are deeper problems in the electoral system which should be tackled at once,” one of the organisers of the retreat told the Nation yesterday. He requested anonymity because he is not authorised to comment on behalf of the group.
Reports by Peter Leftie, Aggrey Mutambo and Bernard Namunane