Jubilee Party is racing against time to assure aspirants that it will deliver free, fair and credible nominations next month with the acrimonious setting up of county election boards across the country this week signalling tough times ahead.
Indications that the much-publicised party membership smart cards could be out of favour over rigging fears and an earlier announcement that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will not conduct the nominations have piled renewed pressure on the secretariat and the newly-appointed National Elections Board.
Politicians like Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko and his opponent Peter Kenneth have been the most recent high-profile critics of the smart card, claiming some people had bought them in bulk to distribute during nominations. Sonko has gone as far as threatening legal action if the party insists on using them.
Jubilee deputy chairman and head of strategy Veronica Maina, who was inexplicably removed as secretary-general and her position taken by Mr Raphael Tuju, scoffed at suggestions that only 300,000 cards have been activated – a figure given by some party insiders.
“The activation is an ongoing process. Every day new cards are being activated, therefore, for someone to come up with such a number is a lie,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki said the cards will only be used where Jubilee does not enjoy huge support. He said it was untenable to have the cards in areas where Jubilee has a huge following.
“For example, in Tharaka Nithi there are only 40,000 people with the cards yet, being a Jubilee zone, there are 200,000 voters. You cannot have 40,000 make decisions for the rest, it would be unfair. And also there is the question of the wealthy candidates acquiring the cards thus sidelining those without financial muscle,” he said.
Prof Kindiki, who is defending his senate seat, said the party is likely to use the IEBC register to conduct the nominations.
This comes as questions linger on the decision to have recently elected county boards to supervise elections in different areas appears to have brought more confusion with some saying it was impractical. The process was also disrupted in some areas with politicians keen on influencing appointments. In Nairobi, for example, supporters of Senator Sonko and Starehe MP Maina Kamanda clashed at Bomas of Kenya over the composition of the city’s elections board on Thursday.
“You cannot expect the nominations to be free and fair when the elections of branch officials were manipulated to favour certain individuals,” an aspirant for a senatorial seat in one of the counties in Central Kenya told the Nation in confidence.
Securing the party ticket in Jubilee strongholds is considered a big step towards a win in August, making next month’s nominations crucial.
Secretary-General Raphael Tuju downplayed the chaos and assured aspirants that the teams will be shuffled during nominations to ensure aspirants have no influence.
“We had the option of just choosing our people to man the county elections board, but it is our wisdom that we should involve aspirants. If they choose them well, well and good,” said Mr Tuju on Thursday.
Prof Kindiki lauded the decision of having board members supervise the elections in counties other than theirs.
“This arrangement brings credibility and confidence to the nominations. Ours is to have both the process and the outcome of party primaries seen to be free and fair,” he said.
He said the decision to transfer board members was arrived at after it was seen that influential candidates may have their surrogates nominated to the board, thus creating a perception of bias.
“There is no doubt that Jubilee will win in August; all now we want is to concretise our nomination process,” he said.
The setting up of the election boards in preparation for the primaries comes in the middle of a whirlwind series of events that involved a more receptive attitude towards political parties that support President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election despite an earlier hardline stance. Fear of Jubilee’s ability to conduct fair and transparent process has led some prominent party supporters and leaders to flee to other parties.
Most fretful are contenders for various positions in JP strongholds especially in Mt Kenya and Rift Valley regions.
In Embu county, for example, Senator Lenny Kivuti and Deputy Governor Dorothy Nditi were among prominent politicians who decamped to Maendeleo Chap Chap of Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua. Mr Kivuti claimed his rival for Governor Cecily Mbarire, who is also the Runyenjes MP, Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi and Embu County Assembly Speaker Kariuki Mate had taken control of the Jubilee systems in the county.
However, Mr Kariuki said that some problems blamed on Jubilee were pre-existing local political dynamics.
“For instance, in Embu county, we had an agreement, complete with an MoU spearheaded by Senator Kivuti, in which we had agreed on a formula that would bring political unity to avoid the the acrimony the current governor has faced. Things were running smoothly until (Mr) Kivuti reneged on the MoU, and insisted on running for governor, which had been reserved for Cecily. You cannot blame this on Jubilee,” Mr Kariuki said.
In Meru, former Tigania West MP Kilemi Mwiria also decamped to Maendeleo Chap Chap and Governor Peter Munya is assured of the PNU ticket following fears that Senator Kiraitu Murungi would get the Jubilee ticket for the top county seat.
Mr Wambugu Nyamu of the Nyeri County Aspirants’ Forum said members were keenly watching preparations for the primaries.
“We rejected shambolic elections of branch officials last year. We plan to lodge the same protest and complaints to the elections board once it is established. Our concern is that the mechanisms must be representative of both those in office and aspirants. If this cannot be guaranteed, the people of Nyeri will consider other options.”
Even though President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have repeated that there are no favourites, endorsements by some influential individuals have also intensified speculation of possible interference. In Nyeri, for example, the family of the late Governor Nderitu Gachagua early this week endorsed election of the National Oil Corporation chairman Daniel Wamahiu as the senator to replace Mutahi Kagwe who wants to be governor.
REJECT SITTING MCAs
They also urged residents to vote for Ms Rahab Mukami for the seat of Woman Representative currently held by Priscilla Nyokabi.
Rigathi Gachagua, who is the family’s spokesman, also asked people to reject all the sitting MCAs who were sworn enemies of his late brother.
On Saturday, a Jubilee aspirant in Nyeri, who did not want to be named, said: “Rigathi maybe a small man in Jubilee but you cannot take his words lightly given that party nominations have in the past been manipulated in favour of some candidates even without the knowledge of its top leadership.”
There are aspirants who have not officially announced their candidature but have secured tickets from “friendly” parties and they are closely watching how Jubilee will conduct its nominations.
It has not been smooth sailing for Jubilee despite repeated assurances that all was well. Trouble started soon after the official launch, when a new narrative emerged that, far from the initial expectation that at least 10 dissolving parties would constitute the new behemoth, it emerged that the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) was not disbanded. Instead, its registration details, including party officials, were used for the new party.
The only other change was the insertion of new office-bearers: The President (party leader) and the Deputy President (deputy party leader).
Soon after the launch, a meeting was convened at the Bomas of Kenya in November to unveil a 63-member county presidential campaign team. However, this was largely not well received, considering that many of those named were aspirants and there was suspicion they could influence the party nominations. The grassroots presidential campaign teams were later quietly disbanded in January.
“All Jubilee aspirants are members of the presidential campaign team. We want, as you seek votes for your seat, that you also ask for the President’s re-election,” said Mr Ruto.
Another point of tension was the December elections of interim office-bearers in the counties that were largely chaotic. Disputes, petitions, parallel teams claiming legitimacy as branch office-bearers, among others, characterised the elections.