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Uhuru, Ruto begin search for alternative candidate

BUSINESS
By | February 12th 2012

By ALEX NDEGWA AND ISAAC ONGIRI

Competition is stiff within the ‘G7’ alliance among leaders who see themselves as viable alternatives should front-runners Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto be barred from the presidential contest.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Eldoret North MP are still considered key contenders in the race to State House despite the baggage of possible trial at the International Criminal Court.

The ‘G7’ grouping, which brings together many of the parties linked to the PNU alliance, hopes to face off competition from their strongest rivals, ODM.

From left, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka with Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto during a rally in Kajiado, on Saturday. [Photo: JOHAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

Political jockeying is quietly underway within the alliance, with possible replacements seeking an endorsement from the two should they be ineligible or unwilling to run for president while under ICC indictment.

"It is true we have told Uhuru that it is important that we start looking for alternatives," says Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni. "But at the moment we have not thrown in a name yet."

Others deny there are any discussions about an alternative, whether from within the ‘G7’ or from a rival party. A surprise outcome in the contest for ODM’s presidential ticket between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi is one development that could prompt a political realignment.

Ruto and Uhuru, however, have showed no sign of wanting to drop out of contention, drawing frenzied crowds to rallies meant to shore up the loose alliance.

Water Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri says those imagining Uhuru and Ruto are out would be in for a rude shock.

"We are firmly in the race. The GNU considers Uhuru their presidential candidate. Our only worry perhaps may be whether the alliance will hold until we go to the ballot," said Kiunjuri, who is GNU’s party leader.

In the meantime, the ‘G7’ rallies are shaping up as a major battlefront for other leaders jostling for the alliance ticket.

Mudavadi factor

On Saturday, the ‘G7’ toured Kajiado county. Its leaders are expected in Machakos today. Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa, both of whom have declared they are in the running, have joined Uhuru and Ruto in the ongoing series of prayer meetings-cum-campaign stops. The events have seen calls for a broad-based alliance to back a candidate who can beat Raila, considered ODM’s likely choice.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, one of the other ‘G7’ members interested in State House, has avoided the group’s rallies so far. This is partly due to the demands and conflicts presented by his security docket and his capacity as chair of the Cabinet Committee on ICC matters. Despite this, Saitoti’s name features in secret discussions on who should run in the event the top two are out of the game.

Allies of both Uhuru and Ruto are hesitant to publicly acknowledge talks about a ‘Plan B’, but behind the scenes the two camps are reportedly weighing the relative strengths of Kalonzo, Saitoti and Wamalwa as potential compromise candidates.

The alliance must manage fierce internal contests if such a plan is to have any hope of success. The VP’s allies, for instance, are emphatic that the alliance only involves Kalonzo, Uhuru and Ruto, and that a flag-bearer should be chosen from among the three. They point to an election pact Kalonzo, Uhuru and Saitoti had signed earlier. This argument locks out Saitoti and Wamalwa and frames Kalonzo as the undisputed compromise candidate should Uhuru and Ruto drop out.

But life is never that simple: Kalonzo faces a challenge even within his own party, ODM-Kenya, from chairman Samuel Poghisio. The Information Minister is being egged on in certain quarters to ‘inherit’ the Rift Valley voting bloc that would be in search of a candidate if Ruto were out of the picture.

The Standard on Sunday has been speaking to the main players in the G7 alliance about the factors the Uhuru and Ruto camps would consider if they had to endorse a compromise candidate to face rivals in the presidential race.

Wealth has been a critical factor in presidential campaigns. It stands to be key in what is expected to be the costliest electoral contest in Kenyan history. Given that Uhuru and Ruto are bankrolling costly ICC defences, their contribution to a campaign war chest cannot be relied upon. A candidate with enough money of their own or the ability to raise significant funds would, therefore, be ideal. Prof Saitoti is among the wealthiest of presidential aspirants, scoring points on this front. 

Uhuru and Ruto also face the delicate task of maintaining influence in their respective blocs in their absence from the race and the choice of a candidate around whom they can rally their communities is crucial. The political interests of the Rift Valley and Central regions are key because a falling out may give an edge to rivals waiting in the wings. Gichugu MP Martha Karua and Planning Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth are making headway in central Kenya and elsewhere.

Further, the Uhuru and Ruto teams will be keen on a candidate likely to exert political damage on the fortunes of the ODM leader. A Mudavadi victory in ODM’s presidential nominations is considered a possible game-changer that could send them back to the drawing board.

The running mate factor is another issue the teams are mulling over to balance the ticket to avoid acrimony and guarantee first round victory. The Constitution requires that besides garnering the popular vote (50 per cent plus one vote), the winning presidential candidate must obtain 25 per cent of votes in at least 24 counties. This presents the G7 with the challenge of crafting a popular ticket.

Delicate balance

For instance, wooing western Kenya is delicate since the region provided running mates in 2002 (Kijana Wamalwa) and 2007 (Mudavadi). The running mate headache has partially contributed to the implosion in ODM given initial whispers some Raila allies were pushing him to replace Mudavadi.

Another consideration is that of a ‘friendly regime’, particularly given the unfinished business at the ICC as well as pending corruption and land issues. This required a trustworthy candidate who won’t set out to destroy the kingmakers as his first mission once in power has featured.

Kioni warned that delays in crafting a fallback plan could be an election disaster for Uhuru and Ruto in their bid to have a friendly post-Kibaki government.

"Let me point out that Kalonzo and his brother Raila are not being featured (in our plans). If they thought they are going to benefit from the tribulations of our two heroes let me give them a hint, they will not," Kioni declared.

When reached for comment on Ruto refused to comment on the matter. He has insisted that the Constitution does not bar him from running for president.

Cabinet minister John Michuki told The Standard on Sunday nobody really know what Ruto and Uhuru are planning.

"I wouldn’t know. If they are planning for alternatives then only the two would know, why can’t you ask them?" Michuki said when contacted on telephone.

Assistant Minister Kareke Mbiuki confirmed informal but intensive consultations have been on course, adding a twist that with Mudavadi on the ballot the equation changes dramatically.

"We have floated in the idea of Mudavadi in the mix and we are amazed it is very popular within our ranks and some of us want to go to bed with it," Mbiuki said.

Mudavadi has stated he will seek ODM’s nomination and dismissed as "dreamers" those selling the idea of him decamping from the Orange party.

Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito dismissed talks of Musalia as Uhuru and Ruto’s compromise candidate insisting the DPM was an ODM candidate and anybody who wants to support him should follow him into the party.

Reluctance

"We are shocked at empty talk about Mudavadi. We are amazed that opponents are pretending to cheers us on. Mudavadi is in ODM," Kizito said.

An MP from Central Kenya who did not want to be mentioned insists Saitoti would be most suited as he hailed from the Rift Valley and was easy to market in Central province.

"If they are going to start talking about strangers we are going to tell them off. We feel Saitoti is an easy sell," he said.

But nominated MP Mohamed Affey dismissed talks on a compromise candidate arguing the candidate would come from the alliance bringing together Kalonzo, Ruto and Uhuru.

"We have an alliance of three bringing together Kalonzo, Ruto and Uhuru. Now this is the alliance that will produce the joint candidate," Affey said.

Mbiuki acknowledged that there is a reluctance to formally negotiate a ‘Plan B’ as nobody wants to imagine Uhuru and Ruto barred from running.

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