Ruto defies Raila counterstrikes, sustains charm offensive in ODM

In recent weeks, the President has embarked on weekly visits to all regions, camping there, launching projects but also using the opportunity to play politics with an eye on the 2027 presidential elections.

The meeting he had with ODM rebel opposition MPs on the same day he chaired a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party meeting late into the night before leaving the country the following day has also raised eye brows.

To counter the President, Raila held meetings in Nyanza and Western, convened a special session with all Azimio governors from the region, returned to Kisii with co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka before convening the ODM National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Nairobi.

Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka posits there is a false notion that some opposition leaders can help the President and his government get some strong backing in Nyanza and that is the main reason some MPs in opposition ranks are rebelling.

"This story has been politicised to show that those MPs who have been my colleagues for many years have an impact of going to Luo Nyanza to influence people on whether President Ruto can do favours for them or not," says Onyonka.

The president appears determined to get political capital from the MPs lured by two senior civil servants into his camp, hoping that they can help Kenya Kwanza penetrate the opposition zone.

Sources in ODM also say Raila moved fast to ring-fence the region after learning that the President's net was targeting among others governors from his ODM party.

Those targeted in the fishing expedition was Kisii Governor Simba Arati who has since been appointed the ODM national vice chairman and, thereafter, promised to stop the President from getting support in the region.

"I know my governor from Kisii has gone to see the President three times and MPs from the region have also gone to State House and yet you didn't hear a lot of noise that is there now," says Onyonka.

During Raila's Kisii visit last week, Arati assured the electorate that he will zealously defend and protect the ODM party interests following his elevation in the party ranks.

"I'm grateful to you baba for the appointment and so, I will now work hard to ensure that Kenya Kwanza does not get anything in this region," said Arati who was later praised by Kalonzo as a brave warrior who is destined for bigger things politically.

Probably to explain his meetings with Ruto, the governor told the gathering that his administration is partnering with the national government to construct a Sh500 million industrial and agricultural aggregation park in Bomachoge Borabu.

Raila has, however, accused Ruto's government of interfering with county governments, arguing that the Constitution created two autonomous centres of power with specific functions where devolved are to handle agriculture, health, development of industrial parks, rural roads and affordable housing.

The opposition leader has taken a firm stand, chairing his party's NEC where it was resolved that MPs Tom Ojienda (Kisumu Senator) and Felix Odiwour (Lang'ata MP) be kicked out of the party for working with President Ruto.

Others are Caroli Omondi (Suba South MP), Gideon Ochanda (Bondo MP), and Elisha Odhiambo (Gem MP) all said to have contravened the Political Parties Act by being deemed to be working for the President and his Kenya Kwanza coalition in parliament.

Because of President's aggressive attack on ODM, Raila held a three-hour closed-door meeting at a hotel in Kisumu a week ago with governors from Nyanza and Western regions where the president's agenda and the activities of UDA political party in the region were discussed.

Present at the meeting were governors James Orengo (Siaya), Simba Arati (Kisii), Fernandes Barasa (Kakamega), Wilberforce Otitchilo (Vihiga), Paul Otuoma (Busia), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Anyang Nyong'o (Kisumu) and Ochillo Ayacko (Migori).

Shift loyalties

"Raila is the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition leader and we are all behind him, no amount of political wind can blow us apart and no earthquake can shake their foundation," Nyong'o told the media after the meeting.

The governor also revealed that some of his colleagues had been approached by Kenya Kwanza to shift their loyalties but they have not been swayed by the overtures.

Ruto's assault, however, continues and he rubbed more salt into ODM's wounds by inviting rebel MPs for a chat and a photo-op while seated on table chairs arranged in a circle at the lush State House lawns two days after they were sanctioned by the party.

The much publicised meeting came after Raila embarked on the tour of South Nyanza where he is now dealing directly with the electorate because most of the rebels are from that region.

An official at ODM headquarters told The Sunday Standard the party leader is already preparing the ground for any eventuality including by-elections and in the process, also making the electorate become very hostile to the MPs who are deemed to have technically defected.

"It is true Raila is more popular in South Nyanza than in his home area the central region and therefore it is going to be very difficult, almost impossible for those MPs and their backers to have any meaningful function there," said the party official.

Senator Onyonka who is an ODM elected MP argues that party structures should be properly set out to outline the limits of how the MPs should engage with the executive.

"Should we have allowed our party leaders to manage, discuss or negotiate with those in power over some of these issues or do I just walk into State House and tell President Ruto I will support you and so let is strike a deal?" asks Onyonka.

The MP pointed out the sensitivity of leaders individually meeting the President because it may create a perception that they went to eat Ugali (cooked corn bread) or to collect money but also blamed ODM for allowing governors and MPs from other areas to frequent State House while vilifying those from Luo Nyanza.

Political analyst Martin Andati thinks apart from giving the MPs hope and assurance that all will be well, Ruto's invitation did sent a message of defiance that there is nothing the opposition can do unless they play ball.

"He could have also given them false hope and some consolation that look, I went through these problems in ODM, Aisha Jumwa and Isaac Mwaura also did and we all survived," says Andati.

The MPs have appealed their removal at the Political Parties Tribunal but ODM says the reality is that they have already been thrown out of the party as per the party constitution and the next action will be to remove them from house committees.

Critics have repeatedly called on Ruto to stop engaging the opposition and focus more on service delivery, but Andati thinks the President will continue balancing the two as long as the opposition continues engaging the government in aggressive politicking.

"He cannot stop doing politics when Raila is out there because if he does the perception will be that he is losing the ground. That is why he will continue striking a balance at the risk of service delivery suffering," adds Andati.

Raila has rallied all Azimio principals to keep the coalition together amid spirited efforts by the president to scatter it as was the case with the Jubilee party whose MPs are now safely under the Kenya Kwanza umbrella.

Wiper leader Kalonzo last week asked opposition leaders in Nyanza to remain firm in ODM as those in Ukambani stay put in his party and avoid being tempted by goodies from President Ruto.

Democratic Alliance Party of Kenya (DAP-K) spokesperson Tony Gachoka told The Sunday Standard that they will continue telling Kenyans that president Ruto is hoodwinking them in his endless trips around the country when the economic fundamentals speak for themselves because the hustler narrative has fallen on the sword.

"They are singing the American and Bretton Woods songs of austerity and cuts in wages, jobs and everything yet in times of depression even former US presidents lent businesses money," says Gachoka.

He says the opposition is arguing that in an economic crisis, the country should have gone into big spending to help people dig their way out of poverty and not doing the reverse by over taxing the private sector and poor people.

Some Kenya Kwanza leaders led by Public Service Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa and former Soi MP Caleb Kositany have however defended the President against attacks by the opposition.

Speaking in Kilifi, they urged the expelled ODM MPs to stand firm and continue working with the president to develop their areas and also castigated Raila for curtailing freedom of association and yet calling for inclusity.

The CS said the Political Parties Act that Raila is using to discipline MPs working with the government is not superior to the Constitution.