Professional football player McDonald Mariga was trapped in behind-the-scenes infighting for the soul of ruling party Jubilee ahead of a looming by-election in Nairobi’s Kibra constituency.
The fight, which began on Monday, pits Jubilee party camps allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
Dr Ruto’s camp - which favours Mr Mariga’s candidature - sensationally claimed that their rivals in the ruling party, led by Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, had hatched a plot to field a weak candidate for the Kibra election in order to help opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ODM candidate win.
The Uhuru wing of the party, however, insisted that it was in charge of party affairs even as it accused Ruto’s side of pushing for Mariga’s candidature through a fake list of candidates published on Monday evening to hoodwink the electorate.
A Jubilee operative who cannot be named because he is not the party’s official spokesperson said the controversial list of five had come from Ruto’s office and not from the party’s head office.
“It was meant to give the impression that selection of the candidate for Kibra by-election would be fair while the truth is that four aspirants on the list were mere pawns who would pull out at the last minute in favour of the footballer.”
The contentious list, which the electoral commission acknowledged receiving, went into circulation on Monday shortly after Mr Tuju invited Jubilee members interested in vying for the Kibra seat on the party’s ticket to apply.
An MP close to the DP insisted that Ruto would supervise the nomination process, which they insist will at the least take the form of an electoral college (select delegates) to decide the party’s flag bearer.
“We will not accept board room interviews announced by Tuju,” he said.
The intrigues escalated yesterday even as it became clear that Mariga had not made up his mind to contest.
Ruto and former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale were said to have approached Mariga and asked him to run for the seat left vacant following the death of Ken Okoth but the football star was yet to respond to the request.
Jubilee party officials also dismissed the Mariga candidature as unfounded because the footballer is not a registered party member and had not applied to run on the party ticket.
Ruto’s camp is said to be keen on Mariga’s candidature because of the Luhya population in Kibra constituency, which has traditionally voted for opposition ODM party.
Mariga did not respond to phone calls and text messages on his possible candidature in the Kibra by-election.
Tuju has since dismissed as fake the document that listed Mariga alongside Morris Peter Kinyanjui, Walter Trenk, Said Ibrahim and Doreen Wasike as the Jubilee’s aspirants.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said it had learnt that Jubilee had disowned the letter sent to the commission on August 26.
“It has come to the attention of the Commission that Jubilee Party has denied authoring the said letter and termed it as fake,” said IEBC adding that it had written to the party forwarding a copy of the letter “for the party’s information and further action.”
The development also lifted the lid on the split within the Jubilee party secretariat after Nicodemus Bore Menjo, who chairs the National Elections Board, clashed with Tuju over the list.
Mr Bore had insisted that the list was genuine since it bore Tuju’s signature.
The intrigues signal a looming fight for the party’s soul in the next couple of days ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for parties to submit their nominees to the electoral agency.
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa vowed that they will not allow Tuju to preside over the nomination process, insisting the Ruto camp was aware of a plot to field a weak candidate in the race to help ODM recapture the seat.
Mr Barasa demanded that Ruto be allowed to supervise the process of picking the party’s candidate as he is the one who will spearhead the party’s campaigns in the constituency.
“We are aware he (Tuju) wants to sneak in a weak candidate so that Jubilee loses in the poll. Since we know he is working for the Opposition we cannot allow him to run the exercise. We want Ruto to be involved since he will supervise the campaigns in Kibra,” said Barasa.
But Tuju insisted that picking a candidate is the role of the party’s National Elections Board and that the board had settled on interviews as the method of picking the candidate.
He denied claims of a scheme to have a weak candidate in the race but declined to comment further, stating that he did not wish to engage in an altercation with party members.
“I never respond to party members, I only state party position. I cannot be involved in an altercation with party members because they are my employers,” Tuju said.
He explained that the party has the option of using direct nomination, interviews through NEB or conduct primaries involving party delegates.
Jubilee aspirants have until Friday to submit their applications to enable the NEB to conduct interviews on Saturday or Sunday, he said.
“There is no way I could make an announcement at 3 pm inviting interested aspirants, and within two hours meet all conditions set and close receiving applications. This would be tantamount to rigging,” said Tuju.
“This is why in my communication I was very clear that the aspirants get in touch with directorate between now and Friday,” he added.
Yesterday, ODM submitted to IEBC names of 11 aspirants who will contest in the party primaries on Saturday for a ticket to vie in the November 7 by-election.
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