By OSCAR OBONYO
Even as they engage that final killer kick to the General Election finish line, leading presidential aspirants are confronted with a major inescapable impediment – shouldering the baggage of Members of Parliament.
As the clock ticks away, some have opted to play the sycophancy card with the hope of generating a political wave to ride on back to Parliament.
And there is no better way of achieving this than hanging onto the coat-tails of leading contenders, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, deputy premiers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi, and MPs William Ruto (Eldoret North) and Eugene Wamalwa (Saboti).
However, political scientist Adams Oloo warns that this is bound to politically enslave the presidential hopefuls and greatly hurt their national campaigns.
He says this trend tends to lock out many parliamentary hopefuls and others at different levels.
“With the contenders hanging around sitting MPs, where is the hope for other potential competitors – young professionals or those fresh from the corporate world – of ever getting access to the party boss or a chance to win party nomination ticket?” poses Dr Oloo, who heads the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Nairobi.
He explains that the assumption is that those enjoying the company of the presidential candidates will get favoured, thereby compelling newcomers and their supporters to shop elsewhere for another party.
Such a trend hurts the presidential contender more, considering that at each given point it is the incumbent’s challengers who are the majority. And this may, for instance, be the case in the so-called Orange County of Busia, in western Kenya.
“The closeness of our MPs to the PM gives us absolutely no opportunity for a fair fight. And despite the fact that ODM is the popular party here, some aspirants are now looking forward to the latest baby, (Mudavadi’s) UDF, which might just sweep through the region,” says Eng Vincent Sidai, who is eyeing the governorship in Busia County.
Mr Sidai says some of the incumbents have lost popularity on the ground.
He advises the Orange leader to free the ground for fair competition. Area MPs include, Sports minister Paul Otuoma (Funyula), Labour assistant minister Sospeter Ojamoong’ (Amagoro), Alfred Odhiambo (Butula) and Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i), all who are strong operatives of the Orange party.
Another hopeful for the governorship in the same county, Mr Philemon Imo, supports his competitor’s sentiments: “It may not be easy for newcomers to penetrate Busia. I personally believe in the ideals and reform history of ODM and I hope circumstances will not force some of us to decamp to new outfits like UDF, whose ideals we neither know nor believe in.”
Ruto is in a similar quagmire, with a host of sitting MPs demanding his endorsement as automatic candidates. A case in point involves key allies, Isaac Rutto (Chepalungu) and Julius Kones (Konoin), who are jostling for the governor’s post in Kericho County. In Central Kenya, Uhuru has snubbed Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi’s “bus” – Alliance Party of Kenya.
“The risk of tagging along with sitting MPs is real, especially if you bear in mind the statistics that Kenyans reject 65 per cent of the legislators every election year. Doing so is placing oneself in a political predicament,” says Oloo.
Probably aware of this reality, some associate with the “big boys” as a means of staying afloat. In a recent dramatic incident, for instance, MPs from Murang’a County, Elias Mbau (Maragua), Clement Wambugu (Mathioya), Maina Kamau (Kandara) and Muturi Mwangi (Kiharu), reportedly swore by the Bible to stay “solidly behind” Uhuru’s presidential candidature. This was roundly condemned as a desperate move by the MP to ride on the Uhuru wave.
However, Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau, who hosted the MPs during a homecoming party to celebrate his appointment to the Cabinet, says the holding of the Bible was a mere display of unity among Murang’a MPs.
“As elected leaders, we have a role to play in showing our people the right direction. This is not about sycophancy and in any case, all presidential candidates require the solid support of sitting MPs,” says the minister.
Nominated MP Rachel Shebesh is equally feeling the baggage of sitting MPs. Ms Shebesh claims selfish interests drove Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale and his Malava counterpart, Soita Shitanda, to “eject” Mudavadi from ODM.
“It is an open secret that they did this purely to revive their political careers with the hope of riding on a possible Mudavadi euphoria to win the seats of senator and governor of Kakamega,” she claims.
In Ukambani, Wiper Democratic Movement’s coordinator in Machakos County, Francis Mwangangi, is confident party leader and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, will not handpick leaders.
“We have no fears about elected leaders from the region hanging around him. In any case we expect them to work as a team until their mandate expires. Otherwise the VP has repeatedly said and demonstrated that when the time comes, he shall treat us all equally,” says Mr Mwangangi, who is eyeing the Yatta parliamentary seat.