How Jubilee cornered Ruto on Msambweni by-election

Deputy President William Ruto speaks to journalists at Jubilee Party headquarters in Pangani, Nairobi on September 23, 2020.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Dr Ruto had planned to front a candidate in the constituency perceived to be one of the Coast strongholds of Raila Odinga’s ODM.
  • But politics of ‘handshake’ between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga seem to have cost him yet another chance to prove his political mettle.
  • Ms Sharlet Miriam Akinyi protested at the party’s offices for “being locked out following the party’s decision.”
  • Jubilee Vice-Chairman David Murathe told off the DP over his botched plan to field a candidate of his choice in Msambweni.

Deputy President William Ruto Wednesday suffered a humiliating defeat in the fight for the soul of Jubilee Party after officials pulled a rag from under his feet in the run-up to the Msambweni by-election. 

An outsider in the party and his own government, Dr Ruto had planned to front a candidate in the constituency perceived to be one of the Coast strongholds of Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.

But like his fate in government, politics of ‘handshake’ between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga seem to have cost him yet another chance to prove his political mettle as he gears up for 2022 presidential race.

A confidential document signed by Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju and addressed to President Kenyatta, and seen by the Nation, stated that the decision by the party not to field a candidate was informed by analysis of several factors — including their cooperation with ODM in Parliament and the ruling party’s dismal performance in the last election in Msambweni.

A party official also told the Nation that the move is aimed at averting confrontation between Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga as witnessed in the Kibra by-election last year.

Dori’s death

The Msambweni seat fell vacant following the death of ODM legislator Suleiman Dori in March.

Dr Ruto’s troubles started on Tuesday evening when he visited Jubilee Party headquarters in Pangani, where he looked forward to meeting top party officials. But the plan flopped after he failed to find Mr Tuju and others in office and ended up chatting with junior officials.

Less than 24 hours later, Mr Tuju Wednesday emerged to declare that Jubilee would not field a candidate in the by-election, slated for December 15, since the “country has very serious constitutional matters to deal with.”

“Following consultations within the party, it has been decided that the Jubilee Party will not be fielding a candidate in the forthcoming Msambweni parliamentary by-election,” Mr Tuju announced.

“…the decision not to engage in the contest is informed by the facts prevailing at the moment, when we face challenges like the recent advisory by the Chief Justice that Parliament should be dissolved.”

He also cited the ‘handshake’, among reasons, for the decision to back Mr Odinga’s party in the polls. “With the unprecedented cooperation between Jubilee and ODM in Parliament in the recent past on matters of national importance and given that this was an ODM, seat he decision has been made that Jubilee will not field a candidate in the interest of the bigger picture.”

Jolted Ruto

The announcement seems to have jolted Dr Ruto who returned to Jubilee headquarters and held a closed-door meeting with Mr Tuju and his team.

In his address after the meeting, the DP, uncharacteristic of himself, agreed to heed to the party’s decision even though he stated he had other views.

“I met the party secretary-general and chairman and they briefed me on the decisions made and I am satisfied with what they have done even though I had different views,” he said.

“I had a different view on the party fielding a candidate in Msambweni, but because a decision has already been made and communicated, we all stand by that decision that has been communicated to the public.”

Those who had expressed interest in the party’s ticket, he explained can run as independents or in other political parties.

Protest

He spoke as Ms Sharlet Miriam Akinyi protested at the party’s offices for “being locked out following the party’s decision.”

“I came here to present my papers, but I am shocked that I will not be able to vie. Is Kenya returning to a one-party state,” she protested.

This came as Jubilee Vice-Chairman David Murathe told off the DP over his botched plan to field a candidate of his choice in Msambweni, saying they “we will campaign for the Handshake candidate.”

“Let him not say he had other views. That was the decision made and the President who is our party leader is fully briefed. Let the DP field a candidate in Jubilee Asili or Mwangi Kiunjuri’s party,” Mr Murathe said.

Mr Odinga’s ODM was excited about Jubilee not fielding a candidate in the race.  “I welcome this important decision by Jubilee Party not to field a candidate in Msambweni. This decision cements our resolve to avoid politics of antagonism and more importantly, it gives our two parties the space to focus on more urgent national duties,” ODM director of elections Junet Mohamed said.

Baying for Tuju’s blood

But even as the DP resigned to the party’s decision, his foot soldiers were baying for Mr Tuju’s blood.

Mr Tuju’s deputy and DP Ruto’s de-facto political spokesman Caleb Kositany said the team will re-visit the decision.

“Consultation with who? There is no seat reserved for any political party,” Mr Kositany said.

Former Senate majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen said Mr Tuju’s action was disrespectful to the members of the party.

“So Tuju consults himself on weighty party issues and then makes an announcement? This is so disrespectful to both the Jubilee leadership and its membership. It’s even ridiculous that Tuju is alleging that failure to field a candidate will help the President solve the two-thirds gender rule,” Mr Murkomen said.

Keen to use every opportunity to flex his political muscle, Dr Ruto is also said to be keen to use the ward by-elections, especially in Kahawa Wendani in Kiambu County, and Lake View in Naivasha, Nakuru County, to further cement his standing with his message of being the man with the people.

Those aware of his strategy told the Nation that the DP sees the win in the MCA seats — otherwise not a priority for a top presidential contender — further cements his message of being accepted by the ‘hustler’ nation, the downtrodden in the society that the DP argues only need a small opportunity to thrive, his key campaign message ahead of the 2022 contest.

In the Jubilee Party Constitution, the DP, like in his role as the country’s second-in-command, is a victim of assumptions of role of the deputies — always left to the desire of their boss.

But while the party constitution only says that Dr Ruto, the deputy party leader “shall deputise the party leader, and shall perform such functions as the Party Leader may direct him or her to do”, the document allows joint functions that give the DP an edge in the fight — even just the faintest.

The Constitution states that the two leaders “may summon” a meeting of the National Executive Council, the powerful party organ that has a huge sway in party primaries and choice of presidential candidate.


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