Apathy, contentious leaders' post forced UDA to postpone elections

United Democratic Alliance North Rift region members during their consultative meeting to elaborate on how to conduct the party's grassroots elections in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County on November 14, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Disinterest by candidates to enroll in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) grassroots elections led to the suspension of the December 9 exercise, sources have told The Standard.

The elections were to start at polling stations where 20 committee members would  be physically elected with all other election activities carried out electronically.

Party officials, who sought anonymity, said in Nyeri County, for example, only 500 candidates registered before the November 2 deadline against the 2,800 positions up for grabs for polling station committee members.

Kieni had the largest registration of 380, with the rest of the candidates distributed among the other six sub-counties.

It was the same case in Murang'a, which had 600 registered members. This forced the party to call off the elections that would have tested its ability to handle the fallout from the exercise.

Officials attributed the lack of member interest to serve the ruling party to the high cost of living and failure by the government to honour its promises.

"The government was overwhelmingly voted in by hustlers who had high hopes that the administration would change the government model from trickle-down to bottom-up. But this has not been the case,” one official said.

According to the source, the Kenya Kwanza government has lost public trust due to the high cost of living, fuel hikes, and blaming the Uhuru Kenyatta administration for its problems.

“These could be the reasons why members don’t want to serve in the ruling party despite the incentives. They are among the reasons the party leadership postponed the grassroots elections to see whether things will be better mid next year."

Elected leaders, speaking anonymously, said they feared going to the grassroots because supporters remind them they have not fulfilled their promises.

“I can state without fear that things look bad because we don’t even want to face the electorate. We are only clinging to the hope that things will be better next year as that may guarantee us our re-election in 2027,” an MP from Murang'a confided.

Nyeri Nominated MCA Karanja Maina, who campaigned for Kenya Kwanza in last year's General Election, said postponing the elections stemmed from the realisation it was time to serve Kenyans and not plunge the country into election mode.

"The ruling party should focus on service delivery and not engage in the divisive grassroots elections that will only work against us,” Mr Maina said.

Amend party constitution

He noted that a push by Mount Kenya leaders to amend the UDA constitution to remove two proposed deputy party leader positions might have divided the ruling party.

"It would have led to insubordination and undermining Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who should be the only deputy party leader. The other model can only work with political parties that are not in office,” he said.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga and other leaders had vowed to oppose the plan, saying such a proposal was an "insult to the Mt Kenya region, which is a major shareholder in the Kenya Kwanza government".

“We will not stand for efforts to water down the position of the deputy party leader. We maintain that the party constitution must conform to the Constitution of Kenya,” Mr Kahiga said.

Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga said leaders fear that creating several centers of power will lead to duplicated roles and scrambling for power. He added that they want to prevent this before it's too late.

“The government structure must be mirrored in the party leadership structure. Imagine a situation where Gachagua, being the senior-most political figure in UDA by virtue of being the deputy president, has several other officers who are of his status in the party hierarchy," said Mr Wamatinga.

Regional coordinator Lucy Wanyitu said postponing the elections averted embarrassment from low voter turnout. The high cost of living, she added, had demotivated party members.

“People were tired of the Jubilee Party and that is why they turned out in large numbers to vote former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s candidate, Raila Odinga, out. But with the hiked fuel prices and lack of salaries for the available party positions, there is no rallying factor,” she said.

The elections were coming when the party had no grassroots offices. Offices opened during the elections closed after fulfilling their purpose.

Every aspirant had opened a party office to influence voters. When they lost or were voted in, they closed the offices.

Ms Wanyitu said they are focused on opening regional offices to manage party affairs before opening county offices.

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