President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party has started intense behind-the-scenes lobbying to have the 14 Kenya Kwanza Alliance affiliate parties dissolve and create a juggernaut to dominate the political landscape.
Chama cha Kazi party of Trade cabinet secretary nominee Moses Kuria is the first to have notified the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORRP) of its intention to fold.
On Thursday, the party held a National Executive Council where the decision to dissolve and join UDA was given a stamp of approval.
A public notice prepared by the party will be published in newspapers seeking submissions from the members to either support or oppose the NEC resolution, pursuant to Article 10.0.1(b) of the CCK constitution.
Party members will be invited to file their submissions supporting or opposing the merger with the secretary-general within 21 days after the notice is published.
The resolution by CCK, whose leader has been nominated to the cabinet comes in the backdrop of yet another push by President Ruto to have all Kenya Kwanza affiliate parties fold. As a candidate, Dr Ruto’s initial stand was that he would not form a coalition ahead of the August 9 elections and smaller parties would be required to join UDA. He, however, changed this stand, initially accommodating Mr Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) and Mr Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and signing a pre-election coalition agreement with at least 10 other parties. He crafted post-election deals, including with UDM of Mandera Senator Ali Roba and Ugenya MP David Ochieng’s MDG.
The latest moves that are in their initial stages give President Ruto another opportunity to craft a mega party after a similar attempt in building Jubilee Party – that was projected to replicate the dominance of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and Chinese Communist Party – enabled the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 but later spectacularly disintegrated ahead of the 2022 vote. Jubilee Party was formed in the run up to 2017 elections by dissolving at least 11 political parties.
UDA secretary-general, Veronica Maina, in an interview said the decision to dissolve is voluntary, and no party will be compelled to fold up.
She added that ‘it would be ideal’ for the party leaders to offload responsibilities of running their political outfits once they were appointed to other positions.
“Chama Cha Kazi is the only party that has come out openly. They brought some documents for the merger to UDA offices but we did not have time to discuss the matter because we were all going to Parliament for the President’s inaugural address,” Ms Maina told the Nation.
“They have served the ORPP with a notice that they want to fold. It is voluntary and we have no problem with their decision to join a bigger party. It is more strategic for someone who is in the cabinet to offload party responsibilities to focus on their new roles,” she said.
Some senior UDA members, however, appeared to be pushing the affiliate parties behind the scenes to fold up for Dr Ruto to realise his “aspirations to build an outfit that transcends ethnic balkanisation”.
“All those who have been nominated cabinet secretaries will now fold up their parties so that we have one party and one government. Kuria is already leading by example,” said a UDA lawmaker, who requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak for the party.
Members of UDA, however, said that parties ready to dissolve to join them were welcome since they were already working together under the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.
“That is a decision that is made by an individual political party, which is much welcome. We are not compelling anybody to dissolve their parties; but if they deem it fit like Cha cha Kazi has done it is welcome,” said Caleb Kositany, a former MP and close ally of Dr Ruto.
Former nominated MP David Sankok said the move will resuscitate the Jubilee dream that was cut short by the fallout between President Ruto and the immediate former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“When we folded parties to form Jubilee in the run up to the 2017 polls, the plan was to have a party that goes beyond one ethnic community,” said Sankok.
He added, “I am not the official spokesperson of Kenya Kwanza but I know that this has remained the aspiration of my party leader.”
Yesterday, a majority of the affiliate parties whose representatives spoke with the Sunday Nation played down plans to dissolve and merge with UDA, with some of the officials indicating they would continue operating independently within Kenya Kwanza, including fielding candidates in the forthcoming by-elections in Bungoma, Elgeyo Marakwet, Garissa Township and Kandara.
In the run-up to the August 9 polls, President Ruto told parties that wanted to work with him to fold up and join his UDA before he finally bowed to pressure to form Kenya Kwanza Alliance with the affiliate parties that backed his presidential election. “These small parties are vehicles used by their leaders to bargain for positions. Politics of ethnicity benefits only a few leaders with positions and privilege,” Dr Ruto said.
“We have not told anyone to fold tribal or regional political parties. What we have decided is to deliberately form UDA as a national party,” Dr Ruto later said after he had agreed to form a coalition with the affiliate parties.
An official of one of the affiliate parties claimed that the condition put to those set to benefit from cabinet appointments was for them to fold their parties and join UDA.
“Those getting state jobs will be forced to dissolve their parties. Actually, he (Dr Ruto) is setting the ground to have those getting state jobs to dissolve their parties. For us if we are given something good we are ready to dissolve,” said the official of the party, who sought anonymity.
The push for the parties to fold up is said to have been triggered by a constitutional provision requiring those appointed to the cabinet to resign as officials of political parties.
The law bars State Officers from holding office in political parties.
Only the President, Deputy President and MPs are exempted by the provision since they are elected through universal suffrage. “Any appointed State officer shall not hold office in a political party,” states Article 77(2) of the Constitution.
Apart from UDA, other parties forming Kenya Kwanza Alliance are Amani National Congress (ANC) of Musalia Mudavadi, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula’s Forum for Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford Kenya), Mr Kuria’s Chama Cha Kazi.
Others are Communist Party of Kenya, The Service Party of Mwangi Kiunjuri, Tujibebe Wakenya Party of former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, Farmers Party of former PS Irungu Nyakera, Devolution Party of Kenya, Economic Freedom Party (EFP) of Isaac Abey and Umoja na Maendeleo Party. Also in the alliance are Democratic Party of Kenya of former National Speaker Justin Muturi, National Agenda Party of Kenya, Grand Dream Development Party, UDM of Senator Ali Roba and Chama Cha Mashinani of former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto.
Constitutional experts hold that such a move will not have any legal implications on elected members of the folding outfits.
Lawyers argue that such members are protected by the Political Parties Act and will automatically become members of UDA upon dissolution of their sponsor parties.
An elected member who refuses such a move to join UDA would, however, be deemed to have ditched their sponsor party thereby having their seats declared vacant.
“The party has to invoke its constitution for its affiliates to legally become members of UDA. Members who refuse to join UDA have all the rights to leave but it has consequences on the elected members because it means their seats would be declared vacant for leaving the sponsor party; in this case UDA,” explains constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, who was part of the team that crafted the 2010 Constitution. “When one party dissolves to join another, it is basically a merger. The one dissolving ceases to exist and its members become members of the party it is dissolving to join,” says Mr Mkangi.
Lawyer Danstan Omari says members of the folding party are protected by the Political Parties Act, therefore, cannot lose their seats on the basis of joining another party.
Mr Omari said it appears that Dr Ruto plans to have all the affiliate parties under Kenya Kwanza to fold as part of his strategy to build UDA as a political behemoth.
“Under the Political Parties Act, a political party can merge with another party. It is allowed by law. The members will now be deemed as UDA members. Ruto’s intention is to make UDA a major political party and soon parties like ANC, Ford Kenya will all follow suit,” said Mr Omari.
Chama Cha Kazi MCA Martin Mwangi (Mutuini Ward) in the Nairobi County Assembly says members of the outfit will automatically become UDA members without any legal implications on elected members. “Someone like Dr Mutua was given a cabinet slot because his party has some MPs and he used that to get the position. This means that he has to fold the party,” said an MP from Rift Valley. But Dr Mutua told the Nation that his party will remain since there was no such discussions to dissolve.
UDM through its secretary-general David Ohito said he was not aware of the dissolution plans. He said the party will remain in operation beyond the next five years.
Additional reporting by Onyango K’onyango