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Ruto and Raila face knife-edge test in season of primaries

 

Deputy President William Ruto with ODM Party leader Raila Odinga during the burial of Mzee Abel Gongera, father to Kisii County Joash Maangi at the Tendere Secondary School grounds, Gucha, Kisii County on February 01, 2021. [DPPS, Standard]

The next two months will be decisive for Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza alliances as they conduct the dreaded party primaries.

Defections, name-calling, violence, certificate-snatching and all manner of accusations will be part of the game as parties decide the fate of aspirants.

The exercise has over the years been a hurdle for women, youth and first-time aspirants who fall victim to manipulation, corruption, acrimony and violence.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga will therefore be watching with bated breadth as their parties undertake the nomination process before the April 9 deadline.

Political party offices where nomination certificates will be dished out either on merit or through brokerage will be places to watch in coming days.

In Western, Azimio aspirants have until Monday next week to reach a consensus on who will fly the coalition’s flag.

ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya has asked aspirants seeking MCA, Woman Rep, MP, senator and governorships seats on Azimio ticket to comply.

Oparanya announced that a special committee had been constituted to oversee the consensus process and all aspirants will have to agree for one to get the ticket.

“We are wary of competitive nominations because the process could trigger defection of losers to rival parties if coalition partners decide to compete against each other,” said Oparanya after meeting Azimio-allied leaders in Kakamega.

Sources within the Azimio team say the committee overseeing the nomination will be chaired by Kisii Governor James Ongwae who like Oparanya, belongs to the ODM party.

On his part, Ruto has assured UDA aspirants and those joining from affiliate parties of ANC and Ford Kenya that the nominations will be free and fair.

Political analyst Martin Andati, however, argues that is not going to be easy because parties are still figuring out how to manage the exercise.

“They have to either go the Narc way in 2002 where all candidates ran on one ticket or the Nasa style of 2017 where each party in the coalition fielded aspirants except the presidency,” says Andati.

The only difference was that in 2002, most parties that formed Narc like Raila’s Liberal Democratic Party, President Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party, Wamalwa Kijana’s Ford Kenya and Charity Ngilu’s Social Democratic Party were all strong entities.

Today, ODM is the dominant party in Azimio, while UDA towers over ANC and Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya in Kenya Kwanza which further complicates matters on how they will field candidates.

As things stand now, no party has come out clearly to tell its followers how they are going to conduct the primaries but it is becoming clear that it is not going to be an easy exercise.

In Azimio, ODM which is the dominant party, does not have a good history in conducting free, fair and credible primaries which have been fraught with chaos and defections every election year.

Aspirants have invested their time and resources over many months while others have joined the fray through newly emerging alliances with hopes of getting a fair chance.

Focus will therefore be in Western next week to see how Oparanya’s nomination process will work because aspirants seeking elective positions will have to agree on a single candidate.

Should the exercise succeed, then Azimio will use it to field candidates in an exercise that will be similar to how President Kibaki’s Narc did it in 2003.

The Democratic Action Party of Kenya, has however dismissed Oparanya, telling him that the party will field candidates across the region.

On Tuesday, Lugari MP Ayub Savula who is aspiring to succeed Oparanya in Kakamega on the DAP-K ticket declared the party will be fielding its own candidates.

He is expected to take on among others the current Deputy Governor Philip Kutima who is seeking to get the Azimio ticket through ODM.

Crowded fields like the Kakamega governor seat contest and others in the region make it even more difficult for coalition partners to agree on compromise candidates. For example, Savula knows that Prof Kutima has served for two terms and cannot vie as his running mate and secondly, because they both from the same region of Kakamega North.

“We will field candidates for all seats but if ODM does not agree, we will leave them to go on their own and allow parties to operate as they did in Nasa in 2017,” said Savula. Given the number of aspirants seeking the ODM ticket for the governor seat in Kakamega, Oparanya’s proposal may not even work in his own party let alone the larger Azimio group.

The Kenya Kwanza team has Senator Cleophas Malala who commands support from the youth in the town and former Senator Bonny Khalwale, who is from Ikolomani.

The Azimio and Kenya Kwanza alliance teams will face another headache of getting one candidate to carry their flag for the Nairobi governor and senatorial seats among other regions.

Whereas Nominated MP Maina Kamanda is close to Raila and has been busy campaigning for him in the city and the Mt Kenya region, he is pitted against ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna.

Businessman Richard Ngatia has also been busy on Raila’s campaign team and will be up against Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi of ODM, while in Kenya Kwanza, Senator Johnson Sakaja will be up against Bishop Margaret Wanjiru.

Ngatia’s ally Tony Gachoka told The Sunday Standard that although the aspirant’s party is “still work in progress” he will definitely run on Raila’s Azimio coalition ticket.

“Nairobi needs a manager and that is why Ngatia is running but he will unveil his party later as for now know that he is the Azimio candidate,” said Gachoka.

Last week credible sources within the Kenya Kwanza alliance said a preliminary working arrangement was agreed between UDA, ANC and Ford-Kenya on how they will field candidates.

The deal was, however, quickly disowned by UDA chairman Johnstone Muthama after Jubilee MPs allied to the party from Western and Bishop Wanjiru raised objections.

Nominations will be acrimonious not just in Azimio but also on the Kenya Kwanza side because so far, it is only the presidential candidates who are sure they will be coalition candidates.

Asked if Oparanya suggestion can work, Andati says the governor himself is not running for any office and it will be difficult for anyone to listen to him.

In the Kenya Kwanza alliance, Ruto has his own problems to deal with and the altercation between Sakaja and Wanjiru was a taste of what should be expected.

Sources in UDA had earlier told The Sunday Standard that Sakaja had been given the nod to vie for Nairobi governor, which brings into focus how intra-party agreements will be enforced.

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University says in politics, one can never be sure about those agreements until they are actualised.

Although Ruto has kept off local UDA politics in some parts of his Rift Valley stronghold, tension is building up over fears that party regional coordinators may be influenced by some aspirants to interfere with the process.

In the North Rift region for example, fears have been raised that some well-connected UDA aspirants in Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Trans Nzoia will be favoured by party officials.

The governor seat in Uasin Gishu, for instance, will be hotly contested by UDA aspirants Jonathan Chelilim Bii, Soy MP Caleb Kositany, Pakistan High Commissioner Julius Bitok, former chair of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission Sarah Serem and Vescah Kangongo, a county executive in Nairobi.

The party should tread carefully to avoid a fallout because whoever wins the UDA ticket will face another tough fight against affluent businessman Bundotich Buzeki, who will be running as an independent candidate. In Nandi, former Governor Cleophas Lagat is causing ripples against incumbent Stephen Sang, while Emgwen MP Allan Kosgey and his predecessor Elijah Lagat are also seeking the UDA ticket.