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Kenyan parliament shows rare cohesion after leaders unite

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Political unity between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his rival in last year’s polls opposition leader Raila Odinga has brought rare cohesion in Parliament.

The two leaders on March 9 agreed to put their differences arising from last year’s polls aside and work together.

The new-gained unity has filtered into parliament with legislators from both the opposition and the ruling party Jubilee in the Senate and National Assembly are working together.

It is the first time in years the two sides are working together in parliament, with previous sessions having been characterized by great disharmony.

The last time such unity was displayed in parliament was in 2003 soon after opposition led by Mwai Kibaki took over the government from former president Daniel Moi.

But the sessions of 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 have been acrimonious, with opposition MPs and ruling party pulling apart on nearly all issues.

The current unity in parliament was evident on Wednesday when Kenyatta made his State of the Nation address. MPs from both the opposition and his party applauded him as he outlined his successes and agenda for the country.

In 2017, his address was marred by boos, shouts and name-calling from the opposition, with the speaker kicking out two MPs.

“The spirit of the Uhuru-Raila handshake was consultation not confrontation. So we will work with the government in the spirit of unity but we would correct them if they go wrong,” said opposition lawmaker Gladys Wanga.

“I am happy that we have united as MPs and we will continue to do so for the better of the country after the unity deal,” said Jubilee Senator Kimani wa Matangi.

Many Kenyans have similarly lauded the rare unity in parliament, noting it would make business in both Senate and the National Assembly transacted faster.

“I believe this is the end of the ugly scenes we have witnessed in parliament for over a decade where MPs called each other names and even fought on the floor of the House,” said Brian Shitsama, a secondary school teacher in Nairobi.

He noted that while MPs in last sessions differed on crucial issues that affected citizens based on their political affiliations, they united only when raising their salaries.

“This time the unity should translate in robust debate and more legislation,” he added.

However, analysts noted that while the unity in parliament should be lauded, it is a double-aged sword.

“This unity may mean the rubberstamping of issues that the executive wants, some which may not be good for the country,” said Ernest Manuyo, a business management lecturer in Nairobi.

He added that MPs may ignore their oversight role as they seek not to be seen as rocking the unity.

“The current arrangement shows there is little or no opposition in parliament, a situation that may lead to formulation of weak laws as it suppresses divergent views,” he said.

Manuyo acknowledged that the cohesion in parliament was good for economic, social and political take off of the country.

“When there is unity especially in parliament, the country focuses on important issues other than the acrimony among leaders,” he concluded.

James ole Kiyiapi, a professor and political analyst, noted that the unity of leaders in the country in and outside the parliament should translate to monumental transformation of our society and politics. “We should have a new history of Kenya,” he said.

Jubilee and its affiliate parties currently have 213 seats out of 349 in the National Assembly and 38 senators out of 67.

Previously, it had 167 votes in the assembly and 30 in the senate. Opposition National Super Alliance and partners share the rest.



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