UDA polls
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President Ruto inroads in Raila’s backyard through UDA party polls

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Former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero votes during the second phase of the UDA primaries at Asumbi Primary School in Rangwe, Homa Bay County on  May 18, 2024.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has scored a major political milestone in his quest to make inroads in opposition leader Raila Odinga’s backyard by installing party officials from the polling centre level all the way to the county level.

President Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) concluded its grassroots elections in Homa Bay and Busia counties on Monday, boosting its political network in Mr Odinga’s turf ahead of the 2027 General Election.

The elections that started in April attracted huge numbers in the counties that have traditionally backed Mr Odinga in the last successive presidential elections.

Former allies of Mr Odinga, including ex-Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and Silas Jakambika, are some of the politicians who have made the bold move to join the rival party.

 The region has in the past been hostile to rival outfits.

 In Homa Bay, a total of 8500 officials were elected in the polling centres, wards, constituencies and at the county level, according to UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala. Hundreds of other officials were also elected in Busia, strengthening the party’s presence in the two counties.

 20 officials

The ruling party now has 20 officials in each of the polling centres spread in the counties. Another set of 20 officials were also elected at the ward, constituency and county levels.

 During the polling centre-level elections, a total of 17,301 and 10,019 party members in Homa Bay and Busia, respectively, contested for the party positions.

Mr Jakakimba, Mr Odinga’s former aide, was elected as Homa Bay county UDA secretary-general while former ODM MCA Kennedy Obuya was elected as the county chairperson. Mr Kidero, who is said to be angling for Assistant Deputy Party Leader to be elected during the party’s National Delegates Convention was also elected as a delegate.

 “When I was going round some of these counties doing party activation, some people thought it was a joke. The effect of those activities can now be seen in the numbers that participated in the elections,” said Mr Malala.

 “I can tell you that UDA is making major inroads in areas that did not support us in the last elections. If elections were to be held today, it would be a different story. We will continue forming structures in those areas to boost our presence,” said the SG.

He said the elections and the political forays in their opponent’s strongholds are part of making UDA a national party that has a presence in every corner of the country.

Dr Kidero told Nation that UDA continues to attract more members in Homa Bay and other parts of Nyanza.

“I am confident that even some of the leaders elected on ODM will consider running on UDA in the next elections,” said Dr Kidero, who ran for Homa Bay governor as an independent candidate after losing the ODM ticket to Governor Gladys Wanga.

 Mr Jakakimba described UDA as the party of the future. Following his election on Monday, he said the plan is to shore party membership in the county as part of the 2027 game plan.

 “We have a re-election party leader who remains keen on continuing national government development projects in both Homa Bay and Nyanza region generally. We will be here to strengthen the grassroots party machinery,” he said.

 ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said the party is not bothered with UDA elections in its bastions.

 The political assault adopted by Dr Ruto involves targeted development projects in Azimio strongholds, doling out government appointments to politicians and influential figures from opposition regions, as well as working with Azimio rebels and losers in the August 9 polls.

Defiance by seven ODM lawmakers against Mr Odinga has emboldened the President, with hopes that his newfound foot soldiers would help him consolidate support in the region.

Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda, MPs MP Felix Odiwuor Jalang'o (Lang’ata), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), Gideon Ochanda (Bondo) and Elisha Odhiambo (Gem) are some of the ODM politicians that have decided to work with President Ruto in total defiance of the party.

Following a narrow victory over the former prime minister in last year’s presidential election, President Ruto has not been resting on his laurels as he seeks to penetrate regions that voted Mr Odinga almost to the last man.

President Ruto was declared the fifth Commander-in-Chief in the first round after receiving 7,176,141 votes against Mr Odinga’s 6,942,930 votes, giving a margin of 233,211 votes.

 However, the majority of the votes (4.54 million) were from the 10 Mt Kenya counties and seven North Rift counterparts which contributed 2,938, 309 votes and 1.6 million votes, respectively.

Dr Ruto is also expected to exploit his endorsement of Mr Odinga for the Africa Union Commission (AUC) to endear himself to the region. Dr Ruto is not new to the region having been in the same team with Mr Odinga in the 2007 campaigns.

 Political commentator Prof David Monda, a lecturer at City University of New York, said the President is seeking to make inroads into Mr Odinga’s strongholds while also discharging his duties.

He said Dr Ruto is using his office as a bully pulpit not only to advance his developmental agenda on one hand but to advance his electoral agenda on the other.