Tax debate exposes Uhuru’s loose grip on Jubilee MPs
Signs that President Uhuru Kenyatta may have lost influence over Jubilee lawmakers was evident on Thursday when they openly defied him during a vote to load more taxes onto Kenyans.
In the past, Jubilee MPs have religiously obeyed President Kenyatta’s views on how to vote with no single dissenter, prompting some opposition MPs like James Orengo to remark:
“What the Constitution sought to achieve … was not only to remove the imperial Presidency, but to also make the Executive answerable to Parliament. The House has now, in all but name, become a mere appendage of the Executive.”
Whereas one may be tempted to argue that the 12th Parliament demonstrated coming of age in the spirit of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy, it may be too soon as this is an isolated case.
Nonetheless, it showed that some wind is blowing within the ruling party.
The fact that President Kenyatta’s austerity measures have also eaten into Parliament’s budget is seen as the more reason to have incensed the legislators since they have always closed ranks, both the majority and minority sides, to pass laws increasing their salaries at the expense of struggling taxpayers.
But the vote was also a big test for the handshake between President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
At some point, it threatened to leave them with an egg on their faces after they separately led MPs from their parties in Parliamentary Group meetings to whip them into obedience.
On behalf of Mr Odinga, Minority Leader John Mbadi and opposition Whip Junet Mohamed unequivocally led the government’s bidding.
If they did the opposite, it would have planted seeds of doubt in the Building Bridges Initiative, handing a lethal ammunition to those in government opposed to it.
They would have challenged the President on the use of the handshake if it could not work for him at his hour of need.
For the first time also, Jubilee MPs did not turn out in their numbers to listen to the President at the PG meeting at State House.
A source at the meeting intimated that hardly 100 MPs were present despite all of the 171 members getting invites from Majority Leader Aden Duale and Chief Whip Ben Washiali. In the past, fear of reprisals would see almost a full House.
Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru (Jubilee) on Thursday became the instant face of the onslaught.
“We will proceed to court to challenge this dictatorship in Parliament. We shot the bill down but it has been forced on us. Bado mapambano (the struggle continues). Parliament is the hope for this country,” she thundered.
Even though the proposed taxes eventually passed on technicality after the government operatives led ‘friendly forces’ from the opposition in staging a walkout to deny the House the much needed quorum, it was not without a fight.
What happened yesterday is just a hint of the power-play in the broader Jubilee House, a complex crucible that has all the hallmarks of President Kenyatta’s succession politics.
Another scenario is that it is possible that the MPs who complain that their party leader has become inaccessible were getting back at him.
Some charge that the President only summons them to State House when he wants certain bills passed.