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How coalition horse-trading could leave Mt Kenya without a deputy president

From Left: Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM Leader Raila Odinga show solidarity after Raila was unveiled as the coalition flag bearer during the Azimio Coalition Rally held at Jacaranda Grounds in Embakasi, Nairobi on March 12, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The fast-changing political landscape and newly-crafted coalition agreements are forcing bigwigs jostling to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta to reconsider the running mate position being a preserve of Mt Kenya region.

Pressure is now mounting on both Kenya Kwanza Alliance leader Deputy President Dr William Ruto and his Azimio la Umoja counterpart Mr Raila Odinga to consider doling out their running mate positions to leaders from other parts of the country in an intricate balance between amassing votes based on the tribal arithmetic and their parties having a national appeal.

Data from the Independent, Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) shows that Mt Kenya has 5.9 million voters, having recorded 224,499 new voters recently.

A deeper look at the numbers reveals that 10 counties from the region govern more than a third of the country’s total votes which would give a head-start to any presidential aspirant that they back.

Disquiet in both camps

Kiambu has 1,293,309, followed by Nakuru (1,050,367), Meru (780,858), Murang’a (628,416), Nyeri (492,046) and Kirinyaga (378,580). Others include Nyandarua with 362,357, Embu 337,627, Laikipia 265,842 and Tharaka Nithi 234,618.

But with the signing of new coalition pacts ahead of the August polls, there is disquiet in both camps, spurred on by the need to re-examine the place of Mt Kenya - which is unlikely to have a front runner for the first time since 1992 - in the larger political scheme of things.

In the Kenya Kwanza camp, Dr Ruto is at crossroads trying to balance the interests of Western region and those of the Mt Kenya.

He is banking on netting a huge chunk of Mt Kenya votes by dangling the running mate carrot but his new found partnership with Amani National Congress and Ford Kenya parties has complicated matters for him.

ANC party is now demanding for the Deputy Presidency slot previously seen as a preserve of the Mt Kenya region where Dr Ruto’s UDA enjoys unrivalled support. Currently, ANC leader Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Mathira MP Mr Rigathi Gachagua are wrestling for the position.

“As a party, we’re saying if UDA takes the presidential ticket, then ANC will want the position of deputy president,” said Kakamega Senator Mr leophas Malala.  

But should Ruto, who was endorsed as UDA’s presidential flag bearer on Tuesday, pick a running mate from Western, he risks losing Mt Kenya votes.

And should he pick a candidate from Mt Kenya, he risks his formation being termed a regional party and losing out on a good number of the 2.1 million Western votes.

“When they (ANC) came for discussion we were very forthright because we are honest people. They were told that we agreed that running mate is from the mountain,” said Mr Gachagua.

On the flipside, the Azimio la Umoja coalition which has over 26 parties amalgamating under it has already given the clearest indication yet that it could consider fielding another candidate other than one from Mt Kenya.

Jubilee party Vice chairperson Mr David Murathe on Monday threw a spanner in the works after declaring that the running mate position was not reserved for Mt Kenya.

He admitted that entry of Wiper leader Mr Kalonzo Musyoka into Azimio la Umoja and his endorsement of Mr Odinga had forced the coalition back to drawing board.

Mr Musyoka on Saturday shelved his political ambitions and signed a coalition agreement between One Kenya Alliance (OKA) and Azimio la Umoja movement.

Initially, the running mate position had been linked to former Gatanga MP Mr Peter Kenneth, an ally of Raila and who has the ear of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Others fronted as possible candidates include Agriculture CS Mr Peter Munya, Nakuru Governor Mr Lee Kinyanjui and Narc Kenya party leader Mr Martha Karua.

“As Mt Kenya we are not keen on number two but fair share of government… If that is what it will take to bring Kalonzo, so be it,” said Murathe.

He noted that Mr Odinga, unlike Dr Ruto, would still clinch presidency with or without Mt Kenya votes, noting that he would get majority support from his traditional strong holds.

“The Kenya Kwanza Alliance team have hypothecated their whole game on Mt Kenya votes but even without Mt Kenya votes, Raila will still be the president,” added Murathe.

A source yesterday revealed that should Mr Odinga pick Mr Musyoka as his running mate, this might force Ruto to pick Mudavadi as his running mate.

Political analyst Mr Tom Mboya now attributes the developments to stark reality of political parties/coalitions still accepting new entrants which might cloud the arithmetic that seemed obvious before.

Prof Macharia Munene says there was no time the running mate position was ever guaranteed to Mt Kenya in both coalitions and an increase in political players has only complicated matters.

“As you increase number of players, the field is then open but it is ultimately up to the presidential candidate to decide what he wants. There must be compatibility between him and his deputy,” observed Mr Munene.

Prof Herman Manyora opines that the tribal arithmetic and quest for bigger numbers are forcing coalitions back to the drawing board.

“The coalition leaders are re-considering the place of Mt Kenya because of pressure they are receiving from other party operatives who also feel they have a stake,” said Prof Manyora.

“Kalonzo and Mudavadi may understand the difficulties that Ruto and Raila are facing in trying to please the Mt Kenya region thanks to its numbers. But even if they concede and say they can settle for other positions, pressure continues to mount from their communities which feel they deserve the Deputy Presidency,” he added.

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