PRIME Minister Raila Odinga has made a surprising about-turn and said deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto should be on the ballot for the 2013 elections. In March this year Raila issued a hard-hitting statement calling for their detention as they are facing charges at the International Criminal Court. “Crimes against humanity are worse than murder. Yet these suspects of crimes against humanity remain free to traverse the country holding ‘prayer meetings’ while Kenyan suspects of the lesser crime of murder conduct their prayers only behind the forbidding walls of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, often for years before their cases are heard,” Raila said then.
Raila made his statement during the controversy over the forged UK dossier which allegedly revealed cooperation between the British government and the PM to have Ruto and Uhuru charged at the ICC and eliminated from the presidential elections. Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo tabled the document in Parliament that also linked him to an alleged British plot to have President Kibaki indicted at the ICC.
In a dramatic shift, Raila has announced that he wants his two rivals Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto allowed to contest the presidential election though they are facing charges of crimes against humanity. “All those competing for the top seat need to be on the ballot. This will give Kenyans a right to choose their preferred leaders,” Raila told foreign correspondents at his office in Shell BP House on Tuesday evening. “There will be no reason for anyone to say that Raila prevented them from vying for an elective seat,” Raila said.
Uhuru and Ruto have both insisted that they will not bow down to pressure to postpone their presidential ambitions despite the ICC charges. They argue that the constitution says citizens are innocent until proved guilty and that Kenyans should be allowed to freely choose their next leader at the ballot. At the status conferences in the Hague this week, lawyers for Uhuru, Ruto and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang said that they preferred their trials to begin after the March 2013 General Election. However former Public Service chief Francis Muthaura said he would prefer his trial to start this September 2012.
On Monday, the ICC Chief Prosecutor accepted the request by Ruto and Sang that the trial should not start until March 2013. However the final decision rests with the three judges of the court who seem ambivalent about that date. “I have to confess that this time frame is not as early as we (Trial Chamber V) anticipated,” presiding judge Kuniko Ozaki said on Monday. The ICC pre-trial chamber is expected to set the trial dates for the two post-election cases by July 13. The court will then reveal whether they have accepted the date proposed by Muthaura or by the other three.
The ICC prosecution has not objected to the trials for all four suspects starting in March but it wants a written undertaking that they will attend the proceedings. In April Raila supported President Kibaki's attempt to have the trials transferred to Arusha. On his return from the US he told reporters, “A decision has been made. Do you want me to contradict what the President has decided?" In Nyeri last month, Raila denied that he had assisted the ICC to charge the four suspects and insisted that he had no ill feelings against them.
In January Raila's wife Ida called for the establishment of a local judicial mechanism to try the four Kenyan suspects. She said she had not consulted her husband and was only expressing her opinion as a mother and a wife to a former political prisoner. “ These are people we have lived with and are like my brothers. These are people known to me personally…. It's better this case be handled in Kenya,” said Ida.