The political turbulence in the ruling Jubilee Party has raised questions on what Deputy President William Ruto’s options are as he executes his strategy for the presidency in 2022.
The handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, and a declaration by former Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe that a ‘stop Ruto movement’ was in the offing have complicated matters for the DP.
Dr Ruto’s allies have declared that as one of the founders of Jubilee, the DP would fight his adversaries within the party. They said Ruto was confident of securing the party’s ticket to vie for the presidency even through competitive primaries.
But as Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, an ally of the DP, put it, Ruto was aware that politics was not a church where congregants loved each other, so he was preparing for any eventuality, including a fallout in Jubilee, by courting new alliances.
Murathe also declared he would lead a rebellion against Ruto, including engineering a mass walkout from the party. And to counter this, Mr Sudi said Ruto should form alliances with politicians in all regions to broaden his support.
“He knows there are those who support him and those who oppose him. He has his strategies,” Sudi said.
But Emurua Dikirr MP Johanna Ng’eno has advised the DP to mend fences with “independent minded” leaders with whom he burnt bridges in the run-up to the last election if he hoped to suppress his enemies in Jubilee.
“He fought independent-minded people who would have now come in handy. He thought he would succeed without them. He should retreat and embrace the people he ignored and spent his time fighting, if he wants to succeed,” said Mr Ng’eno.
Apart from taking the fight to his rivals within Jubilee and building new alliances, others say Ruto should avoid opening too many battle fronts that could bog him down and make him more enemies.
That could explain Ruto’s recent strategy to be conciliatory. When some leaders hammered the narrative that Mt Kenya did not owe him a debt, he replied that nobody owed him anything. When they declared there would be no automatic Jubilee presidential candidate, Ruto replied he was surprised that anyone would wait for endorsement.
When Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and Bahati’s Kimani Ngunjiri, who are supporting his presidential bid, sparked the latest storm, accusing Uhuru of neglecting Central Kenya, Ruto defended the President saying that understandably, people wanted more from Jubilee and asked disgruntled members to raise their grievances quietly using party organs.
Complicating matters for the DP is the possibility of a referendum, which could lead to a weakened presidency and introduction of a parliamentary system of government.
Although he has flip-flopped on the referendum push, when rivals said he was opposed to the changes, Ruto stated he would not stand in the way of what people wanted.
Former Kakamega senator Bonny Khalwale, who has joined Ruto’s camp, said the DP had nothing to lose in case the country adopted a parliamentary system, a proposal backed by rival, Raila Odinga.
“He controls votes in the North Rift and among pastoralist communities. He has also been making inroads in western Kenya. You cannot write him off,” said Dr Khalwale.
Sudi said Ruto would support the proposed referendum as a strategy to avoid antagonising Uhuru, regardless of the referendum question. “Ruto will support a referendum if the country feels it is ready for it.”
Those who have been in the corridors of power say Ruto should avoid being drawn into seemingly endless fights despite the humiliation he might suffer. They point out that this strategy won power for the two vice presidents who ascended to the presidency.
Veteran politician Franklin Bett, who served in both the Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki administrations, said Ruto should “lie low” and carefully work out his succession plan without provoking his boss or other Jubilee leaders.
“He should consult widely before making any decision. I suggest he calls a meeting of leaders from Rift Valley and take stock of the past two general elections before making any move.”
Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama said Ruto should learn from retired President Moi, who managed to succeed Jomo Kenyatta “because he was strategic even when some politicians were against him”.
“I suggest Ruto stick in Jubilee and do his work as he plans for 2022 in silence. He should keep his cards close to his chest,” said the Jubilee MP.
Even the DP’s allies agree that it is not prudent for Ruto to be seen to be fighting his boss, but also observe that Uhuru and Ruto had not contradicted each other, at least publicly, which they say demonstrates that they are still together.
Sudi said there has not been a visible political fight between the President and his deputy.
“Uhuru and Ruto are friends. I have not seen them fight over issues. As his friends, we are not ready to quit Jubilee despite the turbulence. But anyone who is no longer comfortable with the party can leave.”
As some politicians from Rift Valley want Ruto to stay put and fight his enemies from within the party, others have cautioned him to tread carefully and start looking for a plan ‘B’ if he is to succeed Uhuru in 2022.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech was cagey on the plans his team had.
Mr Koech, however, warned those putting barriers in Ruto’s way that they would be shocked. He said Ruto had a number of strategies in place.
“There is a general feeling the DP is helpless because of his silence and he badly needs endorsement for 2022. His detractors will be shocked. They may scheme to block him but we are scheming even harder.”
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot maintained that the DP remained the man to beat in 2022. He said Ruto would not abandon Jubilee.
“Apart from Uhuru, there is no other popular person inside and outside of the party. Those dismissing him will be shocked.”
“The fact is Ruto is ahead of the competition. He has support across the country because of his vast network,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.
Nominated MP David Sankok said Uhuru should honour the promise he made before the party members in the run-up to the 2013 and 2017 elections that he would support Ruto.
“The President is on record as saying that after his two terms end, he will support his deputy. I have known the President since 2002 and I know he is not a liar. We expect him to keep his word,” said Mr Sankok.
Sirisia MP John Waluke said: “Even if the handshake seems to complicate things, Ruto will clinch the ticket.”
In October last year, the DP’s associates visited former Bomet governor Isaac Ruto, who heads Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM), to prevail upon him to join the deputy president.
“The DP is a clever politician. He must have a fallback plan. Using CCM may be one of the options,” said Dr Phillip Chebunet, a political commentator.
But Narok East MP Ken Aramat differed, saying: “He will be a coward if he bolts. I know that is not what he plans because he has the backing of the party and the President.”
Herman Manyora, who teaches at the University of Nairobi, says Ruto can fight from within to win the Jubilee ticket or go it alone. He can also abandon ambition until after 2022.
“The DP may decide to work within the ‘handshake’ or fight it. If he chooses to fight the ‘handshake’ he may have rough time ahead. Sometimes fate, accidents or luck play a big role,” said Mr Manyora.
Lawyer and political commentator Alutalala Mukhwana said if Uhuru backed him, Ruto had 90 per cent chance of winning and if not, he would lose by a similar margin.
Dr Mukhwana termed Ruto an outsider who would struggle in his bid to become president.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr however said Ruto did not need options until the end of his term as DP in 2022, as party nominations would be done around May 2022.
“The handshake was a stroke of genius… Raila could also be hiding cards. A lot will be seen once the country settles on whether to have a referendum or not. But Ruto will play his cards at the time,” Mutula said.
Political analyst, Edward Kisiang’ani said Murathe’s resignation should give the DP food for thought.
“In politics, nothing happens by accident. You can bet his resignation was planned to execute a specific political objective. Murathe is not your ordinary, broke drinking mate,” said Prof Kisiang’ani.
[Written by Rawlings Otieno, Protus Onyango, Stephen Ruto and Steve Mkawale]
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