President William Ruto
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Ruto mega party: UDA now mulls three options

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President William Ruto addressing delegates during the UDA National Governing Council meeting at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on September 29, 2023. 

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has opened talks on the formation of a coalition political party akin to Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya after Amani National Congress (ANC) agreed to fold but tabled other options the 2027 mega party plan should take.

A coalition, proponents have argued, would help parties maintain their identities, but also allow them to work as one unit, if the letter and spirit of the coalition party law is adhered to.

The other option on the table is a merger where all parties dissolve and form a new one with a new identity and structure.

President Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) had initially proposed that all Kenya Kwanza affiliates fold and join it, a proposal now becoming less popular as parties argue about the disadvantage of losing their identities.

In folding the affiliates into UDA, the President’s outfit would remain as the mother party.

A coalition political party, according to the Registrar of Political Parties, is exempted from sections 5 and 6 of the Political Parties Act, 2011. When parties join to form a coalition party, they still retain their identities, just as ODM, Jubilee, Wiper, Narc Kenya, DAP-K and more than 20 other Azimio affiliate parties retain theirs.

UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala confirmed to the Nation that even though the push to have Kenya Kwanza affiliates fold to strengthen UDA was still on, “there are also proposals for a merger and formation of a coalition political party that we are considering”.

If the merger option is adopted, all parties in Kenya Kwanza will seize to exist, including UDA.

This is akin to the formation of Jubilee Party in 2016 when former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party and President Ruto’s United Republican Alliance (URP), among other nine parties, dissolved to form Jubilee, which was Mr Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election vehicle.

President Ruto, the Nation established, has signalled plans to boost cooperation between UDA and its affiliates in the Kenya Kwanza administration, which would see members of the outfits benefit from State appointments and other roles.

The move suggests a strategy to reward loyal parties and their members with government jobs and opportunities to solidify his political alliance and ensure support for the administration’s agenda ahead of the 2027 elections.

Government sources indicated to the Nation that the re-establishment of the position of Deputy Comptroller of State House by President Ruto on Tuesday, and subsequent appointment of former ANC Secretary-General Simon Gikuru to the position, was the first sign that the Head of State is keen on rewarding loyal partners.

The sources intimated that “Gikuru’s appointment is just one of the major indications by President Ruto that he is ready to bring into his inner sanctum partners who are ready to work closely with him without putting other cards under the table”.

ANC, founded by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, had shown its willingness to fold and join UDA.

“I want to make it clear and to other ANC supporters, although I may not be the official party leader today, but as a strong member of ANC party, I must tell you frankly our conversation must be serious about how to strengthen the Kenya Kwanza administration and how to work very closely with UDA, which is the principal party in the coalition and to even engage in deeper debates. Don’t ask me which deeper debates.

"That’s for another day. Another earthquake is in the offing,” Mr Mudavadi said last month.

Musalia Mudavadi

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi in his office at the Treasury Building in Nairobi on June 20, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Malala told the Nation that having Kenya Kwanza affiliates fold into UDA was still in their plans.

“This conversation is ongoing and we have assured our affiliates and other willing parties that we are coming with clean hands. I wish to state that already, like-minded parties such as ANC have shown positive interest and in the recent past proposed merger as opposed to folding, and the talks are ongoing for the benefit of all of us,” Mr Malala said.

He went on: “We are calling on other like-minded parties to engage in this discussion and we are open to better ideas.”

When asked whether the government was using State goodies to lure parties to fold, Mr Malala said: “This government belongs to all. Of course we have pre-election coalition agreements with our affiliate parties which the President is still committed to implement, but other terms of engagement will still emerge as President Ruto is a man who keeps his promises.”

According to political analyst Martin Oloo, the President’s move “is reflective of the strongman syndrome”.

“The President is an accomplished political operative. His style and motif is reflective of the strongman syndrome. The idea of total hold on power is the driver behind the quest for an established hegemony, an all-powerful political party, with him in command. He is a tried child of Kanu,” Mr Oloo said.

President Ruto, Mr Oloo added, “is an admirer of the Chinese approach to a monolithic political party machine and the idea of an all-powerful UDA fascinates the politician in him”.

For Mr Herman Manyora, President Ruto’s quest “is an ambitious move to help him consolidate his power in the lead up to the elections of 2027”.

“The main danger he will have to reckon with is (Deputy President) Rigathi Gachagua’s fury. This merger will bring people like Mudavadi and (Speaker Moses) Wetang’ula into competition with Gachagua,” he said.

Political and governance expert Javas Bigambo said that President Ruto’s plan is “trite logic since he must face the 2027 elections with a very different and possibly superior strategy than 2022”.

“That needs a stronger political machinery, a larger coalition and even bring in new faces and coalition partners. So having present Kenya Kwanza affiliate parties fold is to reduce their bargaining power toward 2027, and give room for negotiating with new coalition partners,” Mr Bigambo said.

But Mr Malala argued that the idea for a strong party is a positive one.

“That’s why we are calling on our affiliates and other parties to buy this idea as it will change the country’s political landscape and build strong parties as institutions of democracy. We want to go the way of ANC and CCM of South Africa and Tanzania, respectively,” Mr Malala said.