What you need to know:
- Mr Odinga is 76 years old and faces strong pressure from his supporters to go for the top seat.
- Dr Ruto has recently made significant inroads into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard.
Who between Deputy President William Ruto and former prime minister Raila Odinga will be the presidential flag-bearer in their proposed political alliance?
This appears to be the big question that could make or break a deal between the two political heavyweights.
Dr Ruto has done the constitutional maximum of two terms as deputy President and wouldn’t want to settle for a lesser post while he has, for a decade, been just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, Mr Odinga, is 76 years old and faces strong pressure from his supporters to go for the top seat.
With Mr Odinga having already served as a prime minister, his allies say he is not likely to go for the same position again should the proposed Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment create the position. His experience and seniority also makes it unlikely for him to play second fiddle to Dr Ruto, his supporters say.
Dr Ruto’s troops feel that the next natural step for him is to become President, with the prime minister position, which as per the proposed BBI amendments should be held by an elected MP, seen as a step down.
“If anyone wants to join us it is fine but not with the purpose of taking power. In my own judgement, it is still early days to be talking about Raila working with Ruto,” said Belgut MP Nelson Koech in an interview.
The first term MP opines that Dr Ruto’s Hustler Nation, a moniker used to describe supporters of the deputy President, has already formed its own alliances that risk being destabilised by a partnership with Mr Odinga.
Raila's political student
But according to nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga, Mr Odinga’s ally, the deputy President is a political student of the former premier and the two could still find common ground, despite recent sharp political differences.
“Anything is possible in politics, you cannot rule out the possibility of any leaders working together,” she said.
“I would like to see leaders putting aside their selfish interests and uniting to help push this country forward. Leaders who come together for that purpose should be given overwhelming support,” she added.
But then there is also the headache of the vote-rich Mt Kenya region.
Dr Ruto has recently made significant inroads into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard, whose votes are up for grabs given that the Head of State is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
Dr Ruto’s supporters say he is almost guaranteed lose support in the region that historically votes as a bloc, were he to join hands with the former prime minister.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, a staunch ally of the DP, says that a Ruto-Raila alliance would be an almost sure ticket for the State House, but is worried how Mt Kenya voters would react to such a political union.
“In my view, this is something we may need to dig deeper into and understand how our people would react to it. We are with the DP because our people have told us to align ourselves with him. Can they change if he aligns with Raila? I cannot tell,” said Senator Kang’ata, who lost his Senate majority whip position after refusing to cut ties with the DP.
“I know a Raila-Ruto alliance would be a sure bet to the State House, it would be unstoppable. If they add a Kikuyu into it, the merrier. As for Kikuyus rallying behind it, in my view Kikuyu leaders have sacrificed and invested a lot in Ruto,” he quipped.
While President Kenyatta’s pointmen are said to favour the One Kenya Alliance of Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Gideon Moi and Moses Wetang’ula; others, including vocal Jubilee Party vice chairman David Murathe, have said they have no problem with the Ruto-Raila camaraderie as long as the ODM leader flies the flag in the 2022 contest.
Bomet Senator Christopher Lang’at feels that Mr Odinga should be willing to back DP Ruto for the top job, for the political alliance to work.
“If Raila is coming on board as an elder and his entire bloc, we will overwhelmingly welcome him but coming with conditions like asking Ruto to step down for him, that is something we will never accept because that will interfere with our bases,” said Dr Lang’at.
Mr Javas Bigambo, a political analyst and governance expert, argues that the DP and Mr Odinga are likely to work together ahead of the 2022 General Election not because of ‘friendship’, but because of shared common interests.
“Ruto working with Raila does not require rocket science for one to see that, just the same way Raila said Kibaki Tosha in 2002 to deal with the late Simeon Nyachai politically, and what happened in the Handshake, the same script is playing out,” said Mr Bigambo, arguing that a Ruto-Raila alliance might not really need the votes of the Mt Kenya region.
The Ruto-Raila teams, according to insiders in their camps, are exploring two scenarios. One is having the ODM leader run for President and DP Ruto as the prime minister.
The second option proposes the DP as President and Mr Odinga as prime minister.
Dr Ruto’s political negotiators are said to include former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, who is, however, yet to make her stand publicly known.
One Kenya Alliance
Mr Odinga’s side is said to include his party deputies; Governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) as well as Dr Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and former Unctad secretary general Dr Mukhisa Kituyi.
Mr Oparanya told Nation that, whereas his meeting with Dr Ruto discussed a possible alliance, “there is still nothing conclusive.”
In the first scenario where Mr Odinga is the proposed presidential candidate, he is to be deputised by a senior leader from either Mt Kenya or Lower Eastern (Ukambani) where Ms Ngilu and Dr Mutua have been proposed to counter Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who is leaning towards the One Kenya Alliance.
Ms Karua is earmarked for the Mt Kenya region to fill the gender equation. In the Ruto-as-President scenario; he is to be deputised by either Ms Karua or Mr Kiunjiuri from Mt Kenya region since he has proved to attract support from the region.
In both scenarios, Mr Joho and Mr Oparanya, who have made applications to fly the ODM party presidential ticket, would land the deputy premier positions.
Emurrua Dikir MP Johanna Ngeno, a Kanu MP who has since crossed over to the DP’s side, thinks a Ruto-Raila alliance is just the thing Kenya needs ahead of 2022.
“If President Kenyatta can work with the opposition leader, then we cannot rule out DP Ruto working together with Raila in the coming elections. They have once worked in the Pentagon and they know each other well,” said Mr Ngeno recently.
Keen to push the One Kenya Alliance as the next big thing, ANC Deputy Party Leader Ayub Savula asserted that the party and its new allies had “declared war on Mr Odinga and that he will have nowhere to hide in the run-up to 2022.”
“It is total war, not a battle. It will be noisy and messy as Wetang’ula said and there will be casualties. We must remain steadfast against characters like Oparanya who are leaning towards Tangatanga with an aim to divide Mudavadi’s votes. They will not succeed,” said Mr Savula.