5 March 2016

Kenya: New Party and By-Elections, Causing Rift in Kenya's Jubilee Party

Attempts to form a new political party on which President Uhuru Kenyatta will seek re-election next year seem to have hit a snag, as few politicians in the president's central Kenya backyard, his biggest support base, have shown interest in it.

While co-chairs of the recently formed Jubilee Party of Kenya (JP) put on a brave face during its launch in the Mount Kenya region last week, sources told The EastAfrican that all was not well.

Politicians from central Kenya are said to have expressed concerns that the party has nothing to do with President Kenyatta's re-election bid but only "exists in the minds" of its leaders and founders.

Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi and former Cabinet minister Dr Noah Wekesa, the co-chairs of the new party, have warned that any politician in Mount Kenya region -- Kiambu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Murang'a, Laikipia, Meru and Embu Counties -- who is not in JP risks being consigned to political oblivion.

Last year, another party, the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP), was formed but differences emerged after Deputy President William Ruto's allies in the Rift Valley region rebelled and warned against the dissolution of the United Republican Party (URP), the major partner and co-founding party of the current ruling Jubilee Alliance.

JAP vice chairman David Murathe said JP is not a registered political party, and therefore, cannot be regarded as President Kenyatta's re-election vehicle.

"As we speak, it is JAP that is in Kericho and Malindi by-elections. Even if you go to the Registrar of Political Parties, you will only find JAP," Mr Murathe told The EastAfrican.

According to him, JAP should be viewed as a "coalition of the willing" of parties that are members of the Jubilee coalition that catapulted President Kenyatta into power three years ago and ready to roll out re-election campaigns.

"As of now the only properly constituted and registered party is JAP," Mr Murathe added.

However, sources told The EastAfrican that the JP has failed to take off because it has been designed to market DP Ruto as the presidential candidate in the 2022 election.

However, Majority leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale, who is also a close ally of the deputy president, said that the decision to dissolve all political parties in the ruling coalition "is a done deal" that will be sealed before the end of this month.

Mr Duale said the formation of JP has put in motion President Kenyatta's re-election campaign.

In a bid to give the merger legal backing, the Political Parties Amendment Bill is being fasttracked by parliament to cushion MPs and other elected leaders from losing their seats when their parties are dissolved.

"A political party may merge with another political party by forming a new political party or merging into an already existing political party... Upon receipt of the merger instrument, the registrar shall immediately withdraw and cancel the certificates of registration of all the political parties that have merged," reads the Bill that is before parliament.

DP Ruto's own Rift Valley backyard has denounced the plan to dissolve URP, with politicians in the South Rift increasingly severing political links with those of the North Rift.

South Rift comprises the Narok, Bomet and Kericho Counties, while North Rift, the political base of the deputy president, covers Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet Counties. West Pokot and Turkana Counties are aligned to the former ruling party Kanu and the opposition Cord coalition respectively.

Old rivalries have been renewed in Rift Valley where DP Ruto has found himself once again in a different camp from Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, the man who teamed up with former president Daniel arap Moi's close allies to tame the DP's rebellion during the Kanu regime.

Under retired president Moi's regime, Mr Ruto teamed up with then influential politicians, among them Julius Sunkuli, the late former vice-president Prof George Saitoti and former Narok South MP William Ntimama to deal with a rebellion in Kanu led by the deputy president, former Cabinet ministers Kipruto Kirwa, Simeon Nyachae and former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo.

The two protagonists, DP Ruto and Governor Ruto, are now joined in yet another political duel ahead of next year's General Election scheduled for August, with the secret hand of retired president Moi being seen through his son Gideon Moi.

The younger Moi has sworn to give the deputy president a run for his money as the two move to take strategic positions in the political equation ahead of the elections.

The litmus test

There are two by-elections set for March 7 in Kilifi and Kericho counties. Kilifi presents a test for the ruling coalition against the opposition Cord coalition, which enjoys more support here. The Kericho case is a bigger headache for Jubilee since it pits the deputy president against his own political base. In Kericho, the enemy is within Jubilee.

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