Jitters in UDA as grassroots elections delayed

When President William Ruto officially opened the Homa Bay UDA office. [Michael Mute, Standard]

The ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) has followed the path of established political parties in flip-flopping on grassroots elections.

The exercise initially scheduled for December 9 has been pushed to April next year following concerns that holding the polls early would cause divisions in the ruling party or it would be infiltrated by their opponents.

President William Ruto had insisted that it was good to hold the grassroots elections early so that if there were any issues, they would be addressed in time.

“We can’t conduct grassroots elections too close to the General Election as that will confuse us. We would rather hold them now and deal with the consequences rather than waiting,” Ruto told UDA’s inaugural National Delegates Council (NDC) at Bomas of Kenya in September.

He said the party that boasts to have over 7.2 million followers would conduct the elections by use of technology.

But yesterday, the party’s National Steering Committee resolved to postpone the exercise and also resolved to stagger them. 

“Following a National Steering Council (NSC) meeting held on 18th November 2023, and chaired by the Party Leader William Ruto. The United Democratic Alliance party (UDA) wishes to notify all members and aspirants that the grassroots elections initially scheduled for December 9th 2023 have been postponed,” Secretary General Cleophas Malala said in a statement. 

“The elections will be staggered into three clusters, taking place on 12th, 19th and 26th April 2024. A detailed schedule outlining county clusters will be released in due course,” he added.

Malala urged party members interested in leadership positions to continue registering before the window closes on March 22.

When the ruling party announced it would hold the elections in December, the move was described as daring given that the major parties; Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party have failed to conduct successful grassroots elections.

In 2014, ODM came closest to hold grassroots polls but the exercise ended prematurely after “men in black” stormed the venue.

The Jubilee party in 2016 opted to conduct county elections which was marred by violence and infighting as elected leaders tried to influence the process.

But yesterday, UDA Legal Affairs Secretary Edward Muriu said the move to postpone the elections was not because of any political upheaval but was meant to allow for more preparations.

“We are determined to hold grassroots elections that will be historic and above board and that is why we have postponed,” he said, brushing aside claims of conflict arising as a result of the intended exercise.

Rival camps

However, leaders who did not wish to be quoted said there were concerns over rival camps that had started forming between those backing the president and supporters of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua as both schemed to clinch key positions in the grassroots as they would determine who controls the National Executive Committee and NDC. 

For instance, there has been open interest in ousting Malala from his influential position. 

“The postponement sought to forestall the divisions so that the two can have rules of engagements before the exercise, in fact we are not sure whether we shall conduct the grassroot elections in December,” the source said.

Another source said there was need to deal with county leaders who are seeking to plant their cronies in the party positions so as to have influence on the party primaries ahead of the 2027 elections.

“That would have seen rivalry within the party which would jeopardise the strength of the party in 2027,” the MP who sought anonymity said.

UDA’s Nyeri regional coordinator Lucy Wanyitu admits it would not be a walk in the park during the exercise fearing it might make or break the party.

She cited bribery, sabotage by rival political parties, infiltration by uncommitted members, technology hitches, high cost of living, possible fall out of staunch leaders who may feel shortchanged in the party elections as some of the challenges that the grassroot elections are likely to face.

“Only grassroots election will be physical where 20 polling station committee members will be elected, all the other elections will be online which may bring the issue of technology hitch. To mitigate this, we shall encourage our presidential agents in last year’s elections to vote,” said Wanyitu.

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