Political parties are now bracing for a looming wave of defections in the next few weeks as party nominations are held across the country.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) says political parties should submit membership lists on or before April 9.
Party primaries will be held between April 13 and 26 and the entire process including the nomination of the presidential candidates by political parties is expected to have been finalised by May 2.
“The history of party primaries is that they have never been free and fair and that is why we are going to see a lot of defections,” says political analyst Martin Andati.
Big defections have already been witnessed especially in the two main political parties of ODM and UDA but the scramble is now expected to explode into a free for all.
Unlike the current situation where cross party defections are happening, the ensuing period is when mass defections occur especially within party coalitions.
Defections from cross parties will happen before the nominations by those who suspect they will be rigged out while those who will opt to run as independent candidates may try to test the waters before bolting.
Over 10 parties have so far declared that they will be supporting ODM leader Raila Odinga’s presidential bid in the Azimio la Umoja coalition and more small parties are still joining.
It appears Kenya Kwanza Alliance is also going to become a large coalition of many parties as opposed to Ruto’s contrary declaration last year.
“Political realities made Ruto change because he has realised that no single party can win the elections because of the 50+1 requirement,” says Andati.
This is the period when sacrifices have to be made by both party leaders seeking presidential office and candidates running for seats across the board.
Andati argues they have no choice but to make some concessions because presidential candidates need numbers while other candidates want to be on the ballot.
“Ruto and Raila will not to interfere because of trust in the coalitions during the nominations although they may fund their preferred aspirants silently,” he says.
The burning question for the party leaders, therefore, concerns joint nominations by coalition members which many are trying to avoid because of past experiences.
The ODM nominations have, for example, been rocked by chaos in the past and that is why partners like DAP-K are pushing for an independent exercise.
There is also the conception that the more seats your party gets, the bigger your bargaining power when the next government will be formed.
Sibling rivalry is also going to be a major issue in places such as Mombasa where the succession of Governor Ali Hassan Joho is threatening to split ODM supporters.
Rivals Abdulsamad Nassir and Suleiman Shahbal are engaged in a bruising battle that is building up into an impending stand-off.
Will they have joint nominations?
“It is going to be very difficult because getting them to agree is a challenge,” says Alhassan Mwinyi Mazrui of Moi University.
The same applies to places such as Kakamega where you have Cleophas Malala and Bonny Khalwale in Kenya Kwanza Alliance vying for the governor seat.
Past experiences have shown that most defections happen within the coalitions during party primaries.
Since 2013, some MPs in Raila’s Nyanza backyard who felt cheated in ODM, among them, Olago Oluoch (Kisumu Town West), Richard Onyonka (Kitutu Chache South) and Shakeel Shabir (Kisumu Town East) chose to run on parties allied to ODM and won.
Prof Gitile Naituli, who teaches Leadership and Management at Multimedia University, also argues that a similar situation will likely replicate itself in the Mt Kenya region.
“Smaller parties like CCK, Narc Kenya, PNU, TSP and Kiraitu Murungi’s DEP will definitely collect a significant number of seats in Parliament,” says Prof Naituli.
He says although candidates will not be allowed to party hop because membership lists will be with IEBC, many will not wait for the inevitable when it is obvious some candidates will be favoured.
He said nobody will for example wait to take on one current gubernatorial candidate who is vying on the UDA ticket in the region, when all indications are the person will get the ticket.
Now that Ruto has agreed to a grand coalition, it creates room because people who feel they will not get seats in UDA, will go to ANC and Ford Kenya or CCK and other small parties.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria announced on Friday that his party and 20 others are going to join the Kenya Kwanza coalition, which opens room for more defectors to shift from within.
But the same also applies to Azimio la Umoja and the One Kenya Alliance because the coalition-building process is still ongoing with more parties expected to join different formations. In Bungoma, for example, candidates in Azimio team will now have another choice of joining Dr Mukhisa Kituyi’s Party of Growth and Prosperity (PGP) apart from DAP-K which is already making an impact.
Those who feel ODM will not give them a chance will jump to DAP, PGP, Jubilee and small parties.
In OKA, the options are Wiper, Kanu, Narc Kenya and Cyrus Jirongo’s UDP, among others that are still being courted.
So far, Azimio la Umoja has received defectors from Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Ford-K, who include MPs Ayub Savula, Oku Kaunya, Peter Nabulindo, Christopher Aseka, Titus Khamala and Tindi Mwale.
A number of ward representatives from the party, have also defected from ANC to the recently formed Democratic Action Party (DAP-K).
Ford-Kenya has also lost, among others, MPs Wafula Wamunyinyi and Eseli Simiyu to DAP-K.