Uhuru, Ruto rush to contain discord in Jubilee Party

Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto wave at supporters outside KICC in Nairobi. (Photo: Maxwell Agwanda)


Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto wave at supporters outside KICC in Nairobi. (Photo: Maxwell Agwanda)

Deputy President William Ruto’s attempt to bring order into political campaigns in Uasin Gishu County has brought to the fore the problems that pro-establishment candidates are posing to the Jubilee Party.

Saturday, Ruto appealed to Kiprop “Buzeki” Bundotich, a governor aspirant, to step out of the race in favour of incumbent Jackson Mandago, after the controversial governor threatened to mobilise his supporters to vote for NASA.

In recent weeks, Jubilee Party has made a deliberate effort to stem what is largely seen as internal and dangerous friendly fire.

There is a strong feeling within the party that the presence of hitherto strong independent candidates in Jubilee zones and even in battleground counties could hurt the party’s fortunes.

Peter Kenneth is an independent candidate in Nairobi and his presence could significantly compromise the chances of JP gubernatorial candidate Mike Sonko against NASA’s Evans Kidero. Ferdinard Waititu, who contested against Kidero in 2013, garnered around 617,839 votes against Kidero’s 692,483 at the time.

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Kenneth’s candidature would have a significant effect on this block of voters that Sonko so much depends on to drive Kidero out of City Hall.

Ethnicity factor

In Uasin Gishu, Mandago’s recent sentiments against members of the Kikuyu community in the region has caused even more division. A Buzeki win would affect JP’s regional strength within the Rift Valley.

Saturday, Ruto pleaded with Buzeki to withdraw from the race and back Mandago.

“I request with humility that Mr Buzeki, who competed with Mandago in the primaries, should accept defeat and join Mandago. Jubilee will ensure all those who lost are accommodated,” Ruto said. But a defiant Buzeki hit back, saying he will not quit the race and that only the voters will decide who becomes the governor on August 8.

“Let the people decide. I am on the ballot come August 8 and there is no turning back. We will not allow any form of intimidation to force us to surrender our quest in support of Jubilee candidates,” Buzeki said.

Similarly, Meru is a key county for Uhuru and Ruto. It is largely seen as the face of upper Eastern region. Jubilee is keen on winning the seat to demonstrate its regional strength. PNU’s candidate, who is also Meru Governor Peter Munya, is pitted against Kiraitu Murungi of Jubilee. Murungi is Jubilee’s pointman in upper Eastern and observers say his loss would affect how Jubilee is perceived there.

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“These independent candidates are doing a lot of harm. They are attacking the democratic credentials of the President’s party and they are creating a scenario that would be dangerous for the President’s post-election situation because if the President wins but has few MPs, then his second term becomes difficult because his legislative capability is compromised,” Ngunjiri Wambugu, JP’s Nyeri Town parliamentary candidate said.

Jubilee has been troubled by candidates with tickets from smaller parties, who despite failing or refusing to seek the Jubilee ticket, appear to enjoy some considerable clout harvested from privileged offices they have occupied before.

And whereas Jubilee is fighting to retain the majority in the National Assembly, the concern that this may not happen has moved Uhuru and his deputy to act. The two have shown an unrelenting determination to fight off Jubilee detractors at home and in swing counties.

Small parties

In the Jubilee zones of Rift Valley and Central Kenya exists senior politicians on small party tickets and independents. They include Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, Murang’a Senator Kembi Gitura and Kirinyaga Governor Joseph Ndathi.

Others are Bundotich, Munya, Kenneth, Laikipia Governor aspirant Ndiritu Muriithi and Kirinyaga gubernatorial aspirant Martha Karua among others. Last week, President Kenyatta brokered a deal that saw Nakuru Govorner Kinuthia Mbugua withdraw from the race to support Lee Kinyanjui who is JP’s candidate.

Splinter groups within JP emerged after party primaries pushed many out. The consequence of this fallout is that the party was left fighting formidable independent candidates as well as those from ‘friendly parties’.

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Even though President Kenyatta’s re-election bid has been endorsed by the rival camps within Jubilee-friendly counties, the party is not sitting pretty. It is burning. And the fire is from within its own political umbrella of independents and small party candidates, all of whom support Uhuru.

It is this friendly fire that the party is afraid of because the divisions could cause the loss of an otherwise assured or probable victory in certain regions like Nairobi, Meru and Uasin Gishu among others.

The infighting has dominated campaigns in some regions. In the Meru case where Jubilee rivals have branded Munya a NASA frontman, the PNU leader has been quick to disown the Opposition and mock his critics.

“The truth is that they seek to act as brokers between Uhuru Kenyatta and voters when none is needed,” Munya said.

Internal contests

A key Jubilee insider, however, says for areas like Meru, the informal policy is non-interference by the JP presidential candidate. “The more the merrier will apply here,” he said, meaning more internal contests is seen as likely to bring more votes for the presidential contest.

But Laikipia County has presented a complicated matrix in the Jubilee Party calculations. When President Kenyatta visited Nyahururu town within Laikipia West constituency last week, he did not apply much pressure on the independent candidates. Two dynamics are reported to be central to Laikipia’s unique nature in this year’s campaigns.

First is the Mwai Kibaki factor. Former MP Ndiritu Muriithi, who is an independent candidate in the Laikipia gubernatorial contest is former Kibaki’s nephew. Mr Kibaki personally went to campaign for Muriithi, the only campaign he has done for anybody since he left office.

People within Uhuru’s circles say the President would be uncomfortable to appear to be campaigning against his predecessor, former President Kibaki. It will be remembered JP issued Muriithi with a certificate to contest but the courts invalidated the move following a petition filed by Governor Joshua Irungu.

The second significant factor is what is emerging as a ‘anti-Kiunjuri movement’ which has effectively led to the formation of two main political camps within the county.

Several candidates accused the Devolution CS of interference in the Jubilee Party primaries. But Kiunjuri, who has been accused of seeking to position himself to be Ruto’s running mate in 2022 presidential race, has denied any involvement. Uhuru’s advisors say it would be unnecessary for the President to be caught up in Kiunjuri-Muriithi battles.

In Mt Kenya East, strong gubernatorial and senatorial contenders outside mainstream Jubilee include Lenny Kivuti and Kithinji Kiragu in Embu, Francis Kiambi in Tharaka Nithi and Munya and Mugambi Imanyara in Meru.

But recent trends show the Jubilee principals are still keen to see friendly fire subside in strongholds.

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