Deputy President William Ruto could be walking into his own trap after declaring that he will personally take charge of United Democratic Alliance (UDA) nominations.
When Jubilee nominated candidates in a chaotic process in 2017, DP Ruto was made to oversee a rerun after a failed first attempt saw President Uhuru Kenyatta cancel the results.
The DP faced a myriad of complaints in which key Jubilee politicians, like the Kiambu governor at the time, William Kabogo, and Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji, saw their losses as having been orchestrated with the help of the DP.
Now, his promise to play another central role, this time in 2022 UDA primaries, is a double-edged sword that could see aspirants flee to other parties for fear of a recurrence of the 2017 Jubilee process, especially in Mt Kenya.
But the DP insists that his involvement would assure members of a free, fair and credible process — the ultimate test for the nascent party and, by extension, his own State House quest.
“The matter of free and fair nominations is not a favour from the party. It is a right to every member of this party,” DP Ruto explained at his residence in Karen, Nairobi, on Monday.
“It is the irreducible minimum that any member can ask of this party, that if they have political aspirations, they must have the space, democratic rights, and they must have the fairness to be able to compete in this party in a manner that everybody is equal.”
As he made the promise, the DP acknowledged the place of party primaries and why they are often a political hot potato.
“I was in Kanu, ODM, URP, Jubilee, and now we are here (UDA), and I know very clearly that the make or break is whether a party is fair or not . . . Until it is fair, it is not done,” he said, alluding to nomination pitfalls of the past.
“But that does not mean everybody will win. Those who are winning must win fairly, and those who are losing must lose fairly. I know we had experiences of unfairness in the past, and we are correcting that.”
There have been jitters in UDA after the DP appeared to endorse some of his close allies who have stuck with him since the beginning of his isolation in government, a perception the DP sought to erase on Monday.
Apart from a majority of the DP’s lieutenants eyeing gubernatorial seats, some of the sitting lawmakers who have been the fulcrum of building UDA will be defending their seats on the same party.
Their closeness to the DP poses a big threat to non-elected leaders eyeing various seats, who might think the incumbents are favoured.
The UDA aspirants are piling pressure on the DP and the party to assure them that they will not be shortchanged in the primaries at the expense of Dr Ruto’s trusted lieutenants.
According to Jubilee deputy secretary-general Joshua Kutuny, the DP took advantage of the goodwill he was enjoying from President Kenyatta to rock the party from within in the 2017 primaries.
“DP took over the party and he misused the goodwill that he was enjoying from the party leader because the party leader was coordinating national campaigns and the DP took advantage to coordinate party affairs,” the Cherang’any MP told the Nation.
“That is the time he took advantage, because it was shared responsibilities to ensure that most of his people who are in Parliament today subscribed to his school of thought.”
The DP had identified leaders who could be stumbling blocks in his State House quest and used the 2017 nominations to send them to political oblivion, said Nyeri Town Ngunjiri Wambugu, a firebrand critic of DP Ruto.
“It was more strategic. It wasn’t so much to favour his people but to ensure that those who would have been an obstacle to his plans to take Mt Kenya from the President before 2022 didn’t make it back. This way he ensured our region had mainly newcomers who didn’t understand politics enough to stop him,” Mr Wambugu said.
DP Ruto, he said, used the trust given to him by the President to try to weaken his boss, resulting in the current rebellion in the vote-rich Mt Kenya.
“The party leader trusted him and believed that they were working with common interests. He didn’t realise until later that his deputy had his own plan that depended on weakening the leader wherever and whenever possible,” he claimed.
Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe had also publicly claimed that the DP influenced the outcome of the Jubilee nominations in the region in 2017.
Igembe North MP Maoka Maore, the deputy majority whip in the National Assembly, echoed allegations made by his colleagues, saying that popular politicians were rigged out in 2017 by DP Ruto.
“This game began during the nominations in 2017, where members who are very popular are not the ones who were picked (for) Parliament. It was coordinated so that immediately after the elections and holding homecoming parties in December 2017, it was the launching pad for 2022,” Mr Maore said in an interview.
The fear of crowded party primaries, particularly in the DP’s UDA, has started fuelling the establishment of fringe parties in Mt Kenya.
There are deep suspicions in the region that leaders who have stood by the DP in tough times could have undue advantage during UDA nominations or even be given direct tickets. This is reportedly fuelling the drive to establish alternative political vehicles.
Among the outfits that might welcome individuals disgruntled by UDA nominations are The Service Party (TSP), whose leader is former Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, Chama Cha Kazi (CCK), associated with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, and Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) of former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto.
But Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said the 2022 UDA nominations will be different and aspirants will get a fair chance.
“We await free and fair nominations. We believe in a democratic and open process of picking candidates. The problem is, no other aspirants have expressed intentions to seek the Murang’a gubernatorial post with UDA. The party has its own calendar of activities and it cannot wait forever,” he said.
He also said it would be “selfish” if other people are waiting for them to build UDA from scratch and then jump onto it when it is ready.
“It’s also advisable they consider embedding themselves into UDA activities like registration of members and by-elections, like Juja and Kiambaa. I am not sure it's wise to stay on the sidelines as the party is being built and complain later. That's a little selfish,” Senator Kang’ata told the Nation.
Meru Senator Mithika Linturi said only politicians who do not believe in democracy fear that some individuals will be favoured in UDA, urging aspirants to work hard for the party’s ticket.
“If they believe in the ideals of UDA, they must be ready for the nominations, because UDA is not for the elected leaders. It is a party for everyone,” he said, adding that they had learnt from past mistakes.