The search for ODM leader Raila Odinga’s running mate in next year’s General Election has reportedly narrowed down to three potential candidates, the Nation has learnt.
Strategists from President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s camps have tentatively agreed the running mate slot is earmarked for Mt Kenya, but factions are haggling over who that deputy president nominee will be.
Sources say former presidential candidates Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua as well as Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui are the front runners, as the strategists weigh the pros and cons of pairing each of the three with Mr Odinga.
Given the development, it has emerged the Nairobi governor’s seat and the National Assembly Speaker’s post, among other high profile positions, have been put on the table to woo other leaders, including the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principals.
Mr Odinga is expected to declare his presidential candidacy on December 10 during the national convention of Azimio la Umoja assembly at Kasarani in Nairobi, which sources say will intensify efforts to cobble together a broad coalition that President Kenyatta has been keen on, hence constant efforts to unite former National Super Alliance (Nasa) leaders.
Barring a surprise development, it’s becoming increasingly clear that if the anticipated coalition materialises, ODM is set to produce the presidential candidate, preferably Mr Odinga, while the running mate slot will be reserved for the ruling Jubilee party, and Mt Kenya in particular.
Highly placed sources familiar with the talks told Nation yesterday that although the final decision on Mr Odinga’s running mate lies with him and President Kenyatta, the slot is earmarked for Central Kenya.
“(Mr Odinga’s) running mate will come from Mt Kenya, but we’re yet to decide who that is. But obviously, the person must be loyal and well known to our candidate,” said Jubilee nominated MP Maina Kamanda, who is among the vocal backers of Mr Odinga’s presidential bid.
“Given what [President] Uhuru [Kenyatta] has gone through with a negotiated deputy, that is not something you would ever wish for anybody. We’re for the view that if we want [the] Raila presidency to succeed and serve this country, we should allow him a free hand to go into Mt Kenya region and look for whoever he has chemistry with,” said National Assembly Deputy Majority Chief Whip Maoka Maore.
Another source said: “We’re reaching out to more parties, including the One Kenya Alliance (OKA). But what is becoming very clear is that the running mate slot has been earmarked for Central Kenya, leaving other top government positions, including the Nairobi governor seat, on the table for negotiations.”
OKA consists of Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper, Amani National Congress (ANC) of Musalia Mudavadi, Gideon Moi’s Kanu and Ford Kenya of Moses Wetang’ula.
Wiper has a cooperation agreement with Jubilee with which Kanu has also signed a post-election coalition deal.
Mr Musyoka and Mr Moi, who have secured their respective parties’ endorsement to vie for the presidency, invited Mr Odinga during their parties’ National Delegates Conventions (NDCs) on November 25 and September 30, respectively.
The team scouting for the person best suited to deputise Mr Odinga, who is perceived as the main challenger to Deputy President William Ruto in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, includes politicians, influential businessmen and technocrats.
Those fronting Mr Kenneth argue he would complement Mr Odinga as he’s not combative, has financial muscle capable of oiling presidential campaigns and cultivated the image of a performer due to his record in managing CDF as Gatanga MP.
But critics argue Mr Kenneth, who ran for the presidency in 2013, lacks political clout to rally Mt Kenya region and it doesn’t help his cause either that he is perceived to go silent after elections.
His backers, however, argue that this shouldn’t be a problem with President Kenyatta’s backing.
When reached for comment, Mr Kenneth said he was keen on marketing Mr Odinga in Mt Kenya region as the best bet for the top seat and would not “apply any pressure or give conditions for any position.”
Mr Kinyanjui is reportedly a favourite of powerful players in the Jubilee government and the corporate world who believe having successfully campaigned for governor he is visible.
But the Nakuru Governor’s bid is undermined by the feeling he is from the so-called Mt Kenya ‘diaspora’ — reference to the community residing in the Rift Valley, hence there’s concern his candidacy might not excite the Mt Kenya base.
Recently, Mr Kinyanjui acknowledged the campaign to have him as a running mate to a presidential contender but clarified he will defend his county seat.
“Some have been telling me so with good intentions and others out of ill will. However, I wish to state that I’ll defend my seat. Leaving Nakuru without completing my development plan for the county would be like abandoning my child on the streets. My focus is on Nakuru,” he said on November 17.
However, those advocating for a departure from a conservative viewpoint are reportedly rooting for Ms Karua to run on a joint ticket with Mr Odinga.
They argue the Narc-Kenya leader, nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ has the potential to excite the ticket and upset their opponent’s march, including in Mt Kenya.
But some powerful figures in President Kenyatta’s and Mr Odinga’s camps are reportedly uncomfortable with her because of her abrasive style of politics.
Yesterday, Ms Karua, who also wants to reclaim the Kirinyaga governor seat, declined to comment on the matter, terming it “a tired old question.”
But in a recent interview with Sunday Nation, she said: “That issue (running mate) has not yet come to me; it has not been put on the table so it is not an issue I can speculate on. But I am grateful to those who have confidence in me, and confidence in my ability and leadership.”